Practitioners who are storing vaccines, participating in a VFC program, working in environments with irreplaceable biomedical matter (like medical research labs, universities and forensic science labs) or are just generally seeking to comply with requirements set out by the CDC, are usually recommended to purchase a medical grade refrigerator rather than just use a household-style refrigerator you could buy online or at a big-box retailer.
You may wonder "what is so much better about a medical-grade refrigerator and why this added expense is necessary?"
Studies by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have shown that household refrigerators are less able to maintain adequate storage temperatures than commercial or medical grade refrigerators. A "medical grade" fridge is just a commercial grade refrigerator with a few added options. They are manufactured with stronger components that last longer and are less likely to fail.
Commercial refrigerators with double compartments housing a fridge and freezer will have two compressors, one for each compartment, whereas a household refrigerator usually cools both compartments with only one compressor. The temperature controls are more accurate than the ones that are used in household units.
Commercial units are also equipped with alarms that indicate when a door is left open or when a loss/gain in temperature is happening. Household units usually have storage areas on the door which cause a risk of fluctuating temperatures for items kept in those areas. Medical refrigerators do not have any door storage.
All of these differences between the two are critical to maintaining proper temperatures and engaging in best practices regarding your facility's cold chain management.
Medical Refrigerators have a few added features which commercial units do not usually have. Glass doors are one of these features, allowing users to locate the item they desire before opening the door. This improves efficiency for less door open time and maintains temperature consistency. This is crucial when using something like in a pharmacy refrigerator where expensive to replace vaccines require consistent temperatures at all times in order to maintain their efficacy and prevent spoilage.
Also, a medical fridge is generally designed with grated shelving to allow for better airflow and more consistent temperatures throughout the refrigerator. They are also frequently equipped with an alarm which notifies the user if the doors of the fridge have been left ajar. This design is in line with CDC recommendations in regards to the storage of vaccines, as it will maintain constant internal temperatures and limit temperature fluctuations—once again looking to prevent vaccine spoilage.
In general, a household refrigerator has a smaller compressor which runs less, making it more efficient (or at least consume less overall power) and therefore less costly to provide emergency power. Many household refrigerator manufactures like to make products that are “Energy Star” rated, which ensures their consumers that the appliance will not have much impact on the electricity bill. The less energy the appliance uses the cheaper it is to provide emergency battery backup power.
On average a household refrigerator consumes ~660KWh of power per year—about 80 dollars worth. Similarly, according to the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a medical fridge may consume around 1,600 KWh of power per year—about $150 dollars worth. However something like even a mini medical freezer could utilize around $440 dollars per year in energy—that's how much it takes to reach ultra low temperature ranges (-40 to -80°C).
What this all means, is that while you may be able to deploy a smaller consumer-grade backup power option should your home lose power, you will certainly need to find a professional solution to providing backup power for your facility's medical-grade equipment.
The first consideration for storing vaccines is the type of refrigerator or freezer that will be used. In general, these fall into two categories – “Medical Grade” or “Household Grade”.
Household grade refrigerators are sometimes used for vaccine storage, although they are not recommended by the CDC. If this type is used, units with top freezers are to be avoided for frozen vaccines as they do not meet temperature tolerances. Many frozen vaccines require sub-zero temperatures that a domestic fridge cannot hope to reach or maintain.
Also, small dorm refrigerators with freezer storage in the same compartment as the refrigerator, are not to be used due to risk of freezing vaccines. It is also recommended that a large enough appliance is used to prevent poor air circulation due to overcrowding.
Medical Grade refrigerators (also known as purpose-built) are specially designed to store vaccines and are the preferred type for any medical office or medical adjacent field such as research labs or forensic science/crime labs. These units have microprocessor-based controls which will enable a more precise temperature range, as well as fans that provide forced-air circulation which limit cold/warm spots and promote a more uniform temperature throughout the storage compartment.
Listed below are well-respected manufacturers of vaccine refrigerators and medical freezers that some of our clients in the past have protected using their MediProducts backup power systems. Among these offering you'll find plenty of options including stainless steel appliances, mini refrigerators for space-conscious buyers and even units with built-in digital data loggers—making compliance a breeze.