Vaccines are crucial to the health of the nation. The World Health Organization, with the Measles and Rubella Initiative, have estimated that over 17 million lives have been saved since 2000 by the measles vaccine alone. Between 2000 and 2014, the number of worldwide measles deaths decreased by almost 80%, from 546,800 to 114,900. Since vaccines are so important, storage and handling of vaccines are just as important. Everyone, from parents to schools, governments to hospitals, undercounter medical refrigerator manufacturers to pharmaceutical companies, has a stake in keeping our vaccines safe.
- Vaccines must be stored properly. There are a number of federal protocols in place to ensure that vaccines are stored safely and securely. This requires that any facility using, storing, selling, or transporting vaccines be equipped with an undercounter medical refrigerator, medical grade freezer, or dedicated vaccine storage freezer of the appropriate type to provide the necessary protection. Refrigerated vaccines have to be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates that frozen vaccines must be stored between -58 degrees and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is important to record the temperatures in an undercounter medical refrigerator or medical freezer at the beginning of every day, check the temperature upon accessing the refrigerator or freezer, and report any temperatures outside of the range to local health authorities or the manufacturer of the vaccine. The report should always include the amount of time that the undercounter medical refrigerator or freezer was out of range.
- Vaccines must be handled properly. Any vaccine that leaves the storage area must be handled correctly, including maintaining a cold chain. Portable containers should be kept closed as much as possible, and frozen water bottles or gel packs are the preferred way to keep containers cold when transporting a vaccine: dry ice should be avoided whenever possible. For field work, motorized, portable refrigerator units are the best way to store vaccines.
Whenever vaccines are transported, the responsible transporting party should have access to a calibrated thermometer to check temperatures. Vaccines should also always be transported in the cabin rather than the trunk of a vehicle. Finally, a vaccine should be stored back into an undercounter medical refrigerator or other approved unit as soon as possible after being transported.
- Ensure that your vaccines were and are transported safely. When choosing a vaccine transporter, it is crucial to ask questions about the calibration thermometer, whether there is a backup power supply in case of power failure, what the company does with any vaccines that go out of temperature, however briefly, and what types of units the vaccines are stored in. When receiving a vaccine, the transporter should be asked about temperature and expiration logs as well as the maintenance records on any refrigerator or vaccine freezer storage units.
Every year, vaccines prevent more than 2.5 million deaths. In fact, vaccines have been saving lives for more than 300 years, since Edward Jenner first developed an inoculation against smallpox. Today, we can vaccinate against far more diseases than Jenner could ever have dreamed, and proper storage, handling, and transport of vaccines is crucial to maintaining this life-saving tradition.
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