Vaccine Refrigerators for the 2014 Flu Season

The auto-defrost 5.2 cubic foot Norlake LR061WWW/0X

The auto-defrost 5.2 cubic foot Norlake LR061WWW/0X

The fast-approaching 2014 flu season serves as a reminder for healthcare facility operators to review their vaccine storage practices especially relating to the ability of their vaccine refrigerators to maintain the correct storage temperature.  As reported in previous Tovatech posts costs related to loss of vaccine potency due to human error and mechanical failure can be very substantial.  Most of these losses occur at the end of the vaccine cold chain – when they arrive at clinics and stored prior to being administered to patients.

Minimizing Vaccine Storage Losses

Human error can be lessened and hopefully eliminated by establishing comprehensive vaccine storage and handling guidelines as suggested in the CDC’s Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit.  Losses related to improper storage temperatures can be minimized or eliminated when refrigeration equipment is designed to maintain tight temperature tolerances.  The proper storage temperature for refrigerated vaccines is provided by the manufacturer but normally it is between 2⁰ and 8⁰ C (35⁰ and 46⁰F).

More than maintaining correct flu vaccine storage temperature, vaccine refrigerators should be equipped with alarming devices to alert personnel if temperatures drift out of range.  These excursions, usually on the high side, can occur if refrigerator doors are left ajar, if there is a mechanical malfunction or in case of a power failure.

Selecting a Refrigerator for Vaccine Storage

There’s an important distinction between vaccine refrigeration equipment and the residential or restaurant-grade refrigerators you might consider for lower acquisition cost.  While acquisition costs cannot be ignored the important thing to consider is the value of the contents.  Think of your refrigerator as insurance against loss of vaccine potency by providing exacting temperature control.  Vaccine refrigeration equipment is designed to do just that.

Alarming and record-keeping systems should be incorporated into the vaccine refrigerator.  Some models are equipped with audio and visual hi/lo temperature alarms along with remote alarm contacts; others can be fitted with optional digital temperature alarms.  Temperature data can be collected on a USB device and viewed on a computer or by an iLab 600 digital data logger.  The iLab 600 acquires temperature data, stores it on a secure website and enables instant retrieval of vaccine refrigerator performance in various reporting formats.  It also provides local and remote alarming including contacting offsite personnel.

Scientific vaccine refrigerators are available from Tovatech in sizes suitable for small or large healthcare facilities.  If you are planning to purchase a new model keep in mind that the CDC recommends an auto-defrost unit and one that does not provide for on-door storage that increases vaccine exposure to ambient temperatures.

An example of an undercounter unit is the auto-defrost 5.2 cubic foot Norlake LR061WWW/0X with a digital microprocessor temperature control, a hi/lo temperature alarm and remote alarm contacts.   Note that this unit has door shelves that should be filled with water bottles, not vaccines.

Several full-size auto-defrost models are available from 24 cubic feet and larger, exemplified by the NSPR241WWW/0 with the same features as the undercounter model except that it does not have door shelves.

Purchasing a new vaccine refrigeration unit or retrofitting an otherwise acceptable refrigerator to conform to CDC recommendations is a major undertaking.  Read more about this topic in our post on a belt and suspenders approach to vaccine storage .

We invite you to contact the vaccine refrigeration professionals at Tovatech to discuss your requirements and for recommendations on a unit that best fits them.

About Rachel Kohn

So how did an MIT Ph.D. end up selling refrigerators? When I figured out that a lot more scientists buy lab refrigerators than innovative leading-edge instruments. I hope that my many years of lab experience will help you find the right equipment for your work. Before co-founding Tovatech I worked in business development and project management at Smiths Detection, Photon-X, Cardinal Health, and Hoechst Celanese. And before that I spent 12 years as an R&D chemist at Hoechst Celanese and Aventis working on advanced drug delivery systems, polymer films and membranes, optical disks, and polysaccharides. Some day, eventually, I’ll make enough money to develop an innovative technology that will change the world. Read More