A Comprehensive Guide for Storing Vaccines in Refrigerators

Vaccines boost immunity in people and protect them against infectious diseases. The World Health Organization says that infectious diseases kill almost 3 million people annually. Vaccines are one of the most dependable solutions to protect people’s health. Vaccines contain antigens, like chickenpox or measles virus. Still, the viruses are weak or dead, so they cannot cause diseases like the live viruses but can trigger an immune system response that produces antibodies.

The benefits of vaccines can only be leveraged only when they are stored at the right temperature environments. However, if they are not stored in the right ways, they can get damaged and wasted. If a person gets vaccinated with such a damaged vaccine, revaccination is required.

Healthcare facilities need to take adequate measures to store vaccines in the right temperature environments.

Here are some of the guidelines on proper vaccine storage:

Selecting Freezers

A freezer is indispensable when it comes to storing vaccines. So, all medical facility owners should invest in a vaccine refrigerator/freezer.

It would help if you dedicated a staff member to handle vaccine storage, for which, put to use only cold storages that the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) recommends. Such cold storages prevent vaccines from damage.

It is advisable to follow the CDC guidelines for effectively storing vaccines. CDC recommends the usage of standalone and self-contained medical refrigerators and freezers for storing vaccines. You will find many types of such freezers: compact, countertop, under the counter, and pharmaceutical grade freezers. It is also advisable for you to go for standalone units as they perform better than combination units.

In your healthcare facility, use a dedicated area for placing freezers for vaccine storage. And make sure that the units maintain the necessary temperature range. It will also help if you purchase multiple freezers to hold vaccines for an entire year.

There should be no overcrowding inside the freezer to allow easy airflow. Moreover, keep space for storing water bottles inside the unit as it helps to stabilize the internal temperature during power outages.

Do not fail to defrost your freezer whenever frost accumulates on it. But, while defrosting the freezer, make sure to transfer its vaccine stock to another unit.

Proper Air Circulation

Good air circulation is a must for making the freezer work properly. Place your refrigerator in a well-ventilated room with at least four inches of free space around it. Clean the unit regularly and do not allow debris to settle on the motor compartment’s cover.

Prohibited Units

The CDC has prohibited the dormitory-style, bar-style, or combined refrigerator and freezer units for storing vaccines in any circumstances, even temporarily. Dormitory-style refrigerators come with one exterior door and an evaporator plate located in the ice maker compartment. And these units exhibit temperature instability that can put vaccines at risk.

Maintain Proper Temperatures

Healthcare facilities should store vaccines at the recommended temperature to maintain their potency. If they fail to maintain the requisite temperature, they will lose effectiveness and become unfit for administration.

Ideally, you need to maintain a temperature range between 2 degrees C and 8 degrees C for most vaccines. But, there are exceptions for vaccines, such as COVID19 vaccines, which call for freezing temperatures.

While you should maintain medical refrigerators at an average temperature of 5 degrees C, you must maintain freezers between -50 degrees C and -15 degrees C.

Ensure that the unit’s temperatures remain within the prescribed range, as out-of-range temperatures can either damage the vaccines or compromise their quality.

Monitor Temperatures

Do not fail to monitor the temperatures of your cold storage units. The CDC has recommended recording temperatures of the refrigerator as well as the freezer two times a day. Once before noon, and once at the day-end. It is the best practice that applies to all vaccine storage units.

Install Temperature Monitoring Devices

As vaccines should stay within the prescribed temperature limits, you need to monitor the freezer temperature to ensure that it does not go out of the specified range. As such, you must ensure that your freezer comes with a calibrated digital data logger with a current, valid certificate of calibration testing, also called Report of Calibration. It keeps a record of the freezer temperature so that you can know the accuracy level.

However, the accuracy of temperature monitoring devices, such as the data logger, also degrades over time. Therefore, such systems should undergo periodic calibration testing every one to two years. And the testing standards should conform to the CDC’s recommendations. Replace inaccurate data loggers.

Deploy Dedicated Staff

Deploy a dedicated vaccine coordinator to monitor your freezer’s temperature. He should check the temperature twice a day and record the temperature readings on a log.

He also should inspect the unit to figure out how well it works and check for any issues. And he should rotate the vaccine stock to ensure that the ones with close expiry periods are used first.

If there are any expired vaccines in the storage unit, the vaccine coordinator should remove them to prevent administering them to people.

He should notify the relevant authority about any temperature fluctuations that could damage vaccines apart from maintaining records of temperatures and equipment maintenance.

Storage and Handling Protocols

Healthcare facilities should have written protocols to educate staff on how to handle vaccines during routine hours and emergencies.

Update your staff about the protocols annually, and make them easily accessible by distributing copies to your staff.

The protocols should address matters, such as ordering and accepting vaccine deliveries, storing and handling vaccines properly, managing vaccination stock, and handling compromised vaccines.