It is important for every facility that is administering vaccines, to maintain the temperature and storage guidelines, that are set out in the CDC’s Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit. Without utilizing these best practices, vaccines can become damaged or impotent. This can lead to patients being left un-vaccinated, as well as a great loss of time and money to replace the inventory.
Types of Recommended Appliances
The first consideration for storing vaccines is the type of refrigerator or freezer that will be used. In general, these fall into two categories – “Purpose Built” or “Household Grade”.
Purpose built (also known as pharmaceutical grade) are specially designed to store vaccines and are the preferred type. 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.
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. 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.
Recommended Vaccine Temperature Ranges
The CDC requires vaccine refrigerators to maintain temperatures between 2° to 6°C (36° to 46°F), and freezers to maintain temperatures between -50° to -15°C (-58° to +5°F). The vaccine’s package insert may also be consulted for additional information. The appliance temperature should be checked every time the unit is accessed, and min/max temperatures recorded at the start of each day.
Monitor Temperatures with a Digital Data Logger
Also recommended by the CDC is the use of a DDL (digital data logger). These devices enable temperature data storage, so that any ‘temperature excursions’ can be reviewed for length of time, and highest and lowest temperatures reached. DDL’s with a ‘buffered temperature probe’ are also recommended as they measure the actual vaccine temperature. Alcohol or mercury thermometers will only measure the temperature of the air.Data should be kept for at least three years so that long-term trends and/or reoccurring problems can be traced. DDL’s should also be calibrated according to the manufacturer’s timeline.
Protect your Vaccines with a Backup Power Source
Without backup power, an entire vaccine inventory could be wiped out in a single power outage. Rising temperatures due to loss of power could cause the vaccines to lose their effectiveness within an hour or two. It is important that a Fuel Powered Generator or a Battery Backup System be in put in place to avoid these costly incidents. It is also important that the system be tested weekly and monthly to ensure the system is functional. Manufacturer guidelines for maintaining the system should also be followed.A power outage alert system should also be integrated with the backup power source, so you know how long the system has been running.
Implement an Emergency Transport Plan
Even with a generator or battery backup system in place, the cold storage appliance could still fail, leaving the vaccines vulnerable to a rise in temperature. To guard against this, an Emergency Transport Plan should be put in place. This will involve packing up the vaccines in a ‘qualified’ container per CDC packing guidelines and transporting them to another facility. The alternative storage facility should be contacted before leaving to ensure the storage space is available, and temperatures monitored on the way with a TMD (temperature monitoring device).
This post is a brief summary of the CDC guidelines for maintaining temperature integrity. For a comprehensive guide, we strongly recommend reading the CDC’s Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit. At Mediproducts we are always willing to help customers with vaccine storage challenges, and would enjoy hearing from you.