As with any temperature sensitive substances, vaccines need optimal conditions to maintain efficacy. This makes storing vaccines a daunting task considering all the potential risks. From temperature fluctuations within the refrigerator/freezer, power outages or simply leaving the units door open by accident. This is why the CDC and VFC have created such strict guidelines for storing and handling vaccines. But storing vaccines doesn’t always have to be such an anxiety driven procedure. In this article we will explain the best refrigeration units to store vaccines, best practices, monitoring tools, and backup systems. Following this Vaccine Refrigeration Buying Guide will help you and the rest of your facility safely store vaccines with peace of mind.
Buying a Vaccine Refrigeration Unit: The Best Refrigerators or Freezers to Store Vaccines
Any refrigerator or freezer won’t do. For the safest storage procedures, you should always follow the CDC and VFC recommendations. The CDC states all vaccines must be stored in a purpose-built or pharmaceutical-grade refrigerators or freezers. These cold storage units must be designed and tested to refrigerate or freeze biologics, including vaccines.
One of the primary reasons these specific refrigeration units are recommended is their ability to maintain temperature uniformity. Vaccines are extremely temperature sensitive products and temperature fluctuations can deplete their efficacy. This not only results in wasted money and vaccines, but also jeopardizes the health of patients.
The CDC also recommends that facilities should have enough storage space for the “busy” season (aka flu season). This means having enough units or a large capacity unit to store the most inventory expected during the busiest part of the year without crowding. When buying a vaccine refrigeration unit, estimate on the high end to make sure you have more than enough room for storage without overcrowding.
Due to their temperature fluctuations and uncertainty, the CDC states vaccines should never be stored in a dorm or bar-style refrigerator/freezer. “These units often have a single exterior door and an evaporator plate or cooling coil, usually located in an ice maker or freezer compartment. These units pose a significant risk of freezing vaccines, even when used for temporary storage.”1
Temperature Monitoring & Data Logging to Consider When Buying a Vaccine Refrigeration Unit
The CDC recommends the use of a temperature monitoring device (TMD) for each unit that is storing vaccines. The VFC (Vaccines for Children Program) requires it. Although a TMD is not just as simple as a thermometer. What your vaccine storage unit needs is a digital data logger (DDL) that continuously monitors and records temperature in intervals.
Data loggers also come with a temperature probe that runs through the probe access port and placed inside the unit. This probe is typically a buffered probe (typically in a glycol solution) that replicates a vaccine vial. Since vaccines are liquid, these probes reflect a truer temperature reading. As opposed to a standard probe that is only measuring the air temperature. “DDLs provide details on how long a unit has been operating outside the recommended temperature range (a temperature excursion). Each DDL should have a current and valid Certificate of Calibration Testing (also known as a “Report of Calibration”). This certified and up to date calibration ensures device accuracy.”1
The CDC states that any DDL that is used for vaccine storage should feature:
- A detachable probe sensor that accurately represents vaccine temperatures. For instance, a sensor insulated with glycol, glass beads, sand, or Teflon®.
- An alert system or alarm for temperature deviations beyond the acceptable range.
- A visual/audible indicator for low battery status.
- Display of current, minimum, and maximum recorded temperatures.
- An advised precision level of approximately +/- 0.5°C (+/- 1°F).
- Configurable logging interval (or reading frequency) allowing users to measure and log temperatures at intervals of at least 30 minutes.
Calibration testing should also be conducted every one to two years or as per the schedule recommended by the manufacturer. According to the CDC, a DDL’s up-to-date and valid Certificate of Calibration Testing should include details such as: the model or device name, serial number, date of calibration (report or issue date), confirmation of successful testing (or the instrument being within tolerance), as well as a suggested uncertainty level of +/-0.5°C (+/-1°F) or lower.
Battery Back-Up Systems to Keep Your Medical Refrigerators & Freezers Always Running
Considering the temperature sensitivity and costs associated with vaccines, a backup plan is always recommended. Power outages in your lab or medical facility are unpredictable. Being proactive about the situation could save you thousands in the end. A battery back-up system for your pharmaceutical refrigerators & freezers can give you peace of mind. These systems guarantee uninterrupted power supply, maintaining the functionality of your refrigerators and freezers even during blackouts. Battery back-up systems employ cutting-edge technology to ensure smooth transitions to battery-generated power. By averting temperature variations, the battery backup system conserves the integrity of your samples and safeguards your valuable vaccines and other biomedical supply.
Diverse in size and capacity, battery backup systems cater to a range of medical or laboratory requirements. They can be tailored to specific power demands, assuring continuous operation of essential equipment for prolonged periods. Additionally, certain systems offer features such as automatic voltage regulation (AVR) to shield against power surges or voltage fluctuations. With a battery backup system seamlessly integrated, you can confidently manage power disruptions, reassured that your samples and vaccines remain protected.
5 Easy Steps to Consider When Buying a Vaccine Refrigeration Unit
#1: What type of vaccine are you storing? Refrigerated or Frozen?
- Refrigerated Vaccines: If you are storing routine recommended vaccines, you will need a medical-grade refrigerator that maintains temperatures between +35°F and +46°F. The CDC recommends average temperature storage of +40°F for refrigerated vaccines. If your facility is storing refrigerated vaccines, you can follow this link to view a full selection of medical-grade refrigerators.
- Frozen Vaccines: Some vaccines require colder temperatures in order to retain their efficacy. Most frozen vaccines require temperature storage of -4°F. If your facility is storing frozen vaccines, you can follow this link to view a full selection of freezers.
#2: What is the maximum amount of vaccines your facility anticipates storing during your busiest season?
- Once you have clicked on one of the links above after choosing that you need a refrigerator or freezer, you will notice filters on the left side of the screen (bottom if on mobile). Using these filters can help you narrow down your search to specific selections that meet your storage criteria. For example, you can filter your view down to a specific internal capacity (size) range and then also by style (1 door, 2 door, undercounter, etc.)
- It can be difficult to calculate what is the maximum quantity of vaccines your facility might store at one point during the year. It is suggested to always have room for extra that way if you receive more vaccines than anticipated to eliminate the risk of overcrowding the unit and/or running out of room.
- If floor space is limited in your facility, it might be in your best interest to consider an undercounter or benchtop unit that can be stored out of the way. A combo/stacked system that includes both a refrigerator & freezer may also be a good option when buying a vaccine refrigeration unit. This will not only help you save space, but provides you with the refrigerator and freezer within one purchase.
#3: Does your facility prefer solid or glass door options for refrigerators? Do your vaccines need to be protected from light?
- As mentioned in the previous step, when filtering your product selection you can also choose from solid or glass door options. Some vaccines do require storage without light and if that is the case then a solid door refrigerator or freezer is clearly the correct choice. If that isn’t a requirement though, the choice is really up to you/your facility. The glass door option does offer some added benefits. Glass door options allow the user to see everything stored in the refrigerator before you open it. This decreases the amount of time that the door needs to remained open for which will help to keep the temperature more stable within the unit. This also helps to preserve energy as the unit has to work less, which can lower your energy bills and also help by extending the units lifespan.
#4: Does your facility require NSF certified units or are they preparing to be NSF compliant for the near future?
- NSF certifications for vaccine storage refrigerators is not yet a requirement. Although, experts anticipate that it very well could be in the near future. To prepare your facility for this potential upcoming announcement, it may be in your best interest to opt for an NSF certified unit now rather than having to purchase again in the near future. We provide a full selection of NSF certified medical refrigerators and freezers. If you are unsure of what the NSF certification means for vaccine storage, read through our blog for a detailed overview.
#5: Does your facility need temperature monitoring devices to go along with your purchase?
- As mentioned earlier in this article, a temperature monitoring device is required to safely store vaccines. If your facility doesn’t already have a temperature monitoring device, you can view a wide selection of options here.
- If you are in the market for a medical-grade refrigerator or freezer AND you also need temperature monitoring devices, you could save some money by going with our LabRepCo CliniCool brand. All CliniCool brand medical refrigerators and freezers come standard with a Traceable® Temperature Data Logger. This allows your facility to be compliant and ready to store vaccines as soon as you receive your refrigeration unit.
- You can also learn how to safely install a data logger through the units probe access port by reading our article and watching a short video on installation.
Before you consider buying a vaccine refrigeration unit for your facility, make sure you read the CDC’s Vaccine Storage & Handling Toolkit. For more information on safe vaccine storage practices or for help on selecting the perfect refrigeration unit for your facility, contact us today by filling out the form below. Your local area LabRepCo rep will reach out to you shortly after contacting us. From there, you can discuss your specific requirements and they will help you select the proper medical refrigerator, freezer or temperature monitoring device for your facility.
1Pinkbook | Vaccine Storage and Handling | Epidemiology of VPDs | CDC. 17 Aug. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/vac-storage.html.