Maintaining and monitoring conditions at storage facilities for vaccines

Maintaining and monitoring conditions at storage facilities for vaccines

Ensuring the safety of the public requires proper vaccine storage.

The vaccine is perhaps one of the greatest developments in human history. Through the implementation of this medical marvel, mankind has saved the lives of more than 732,000 children since 1994, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That said, the life-saving abilities of vaccines are only possible if the samples are stored correctly. Vaccines quickly lose potency when left above their optimal temperature range, and as such, demand constant maintenance and monitoring. 

With that in mind, what can medical administrators do to ensure the effectiveness of stored vaccines?

"There are a lot of people in the cold chain."

The importance of the cold chain and temperature ranges

One of the first things a health care organization should do to mitigate the risks of spoiled vaccines is to understand where it stands in the cold chain. This is the string of people between the vaccine's creator and the final facility that will end up actually using it. There are a lot of people in between these two facilities, and each one needs to keep the products at the correct temperature.

The CDC states that vaccines meant for storage in refrigerators should be kept between 35 degrees and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Those destined for freezer storage need to be held within the range between minus 58 degrees and 5 degrees F. While it's obviously good to know these ranges for end storage, those at the end of the cold chain should also ensure that the vaccines never went outside this spectrum. Any deviation from the correct range should be noted, and vaccines exposed to an improper temperature should be carefully inspected and thrown away if spoiled. 

Ensuring vaccine safety is a vital role within the cold chain. Checking if vaccines have spoiled is a long, expensive process.

How to ensure proper refrigerator/freezer temperature

After making sure that the cold chain wasn't broken, the real hard work can begin. In a perfect world, storage would be easier than transportation. Sadly, this isn't the case, but there are some steps health care administrators can take to ensure vaccine safety and integrity. A good place to begin is by placing a "Do not unplug" sign near the outlet the refrigerator or freezer is using. Human error is at the root of many vaccine spoilage events, and putting up a simple sticker is a cheap and easy way to cut down on the possibility of an employee making a mistake. 

A recommendation straight from the CDC is to put bottles or gallon jugs of water into the refrigerator along with the vaccines. Although this takes up a lot of space, it helps to maintain a constant temperature, even if employees need to constantly open the unit's door. When the temperatures get too hot, the air inside the refrigerator can transfer its heat to the cold water and help ensure that the vaccines don't overheat. 

Finally, pharmacy managers should look into purchasing temperature sensors as well as implementing a monitoring solution such as those produced by Geist. Ensuring the temperature of the refrigeration unit itself is the prime objective here, and a solid monitoring system can help medical administrators keep on top of this. Aside from accurate readings, the most important part of a monitoring tool is a high-temperature alarm that alerts important employees when a refrigerator or freezer gets too hot. This allows workers to quickly move the vaccines to another storage area, thereby lowering the risks of spoilage. 

Vaccines may be one of the greatest innovations ever seen, but they still require quite a lot of care in order to work properly. Health care employees involved in any part of the cold chain need to understand the gravity of the responsibility before them and take every precaution necessary to lower the risk of spoilage.