Why is the right type of storage required for Vaccines?

Covid-19 is reason enough to know about the importance of a vaccine. The entire world shut down until companies raced to find a vaccine formula to help humans fight the virus. It was the one thing that gave us hope and helped us recover from the severity of the pandemic.

But as necessary as it is to manufacture the vaccines, do you know that it is equally essential to ensure proper storage for them?

Most of the vaccines have very specific storage condition requirements. If these requirements are not observed, a vaccine’s potency can be reduced.  Indeed, the vaccine might even turn completely ineffective in some cases. To prevent any such scenarios, vaccines are stored with utmost care right from the point of manufacture until they are injected into a recipient. The responsibility for adequate storage is shared by the manufacturer, the distributor, and the healthcare provider.

Many factors contribute to the proper storage of vaccines.  In this article, we will walk through some interesting information about the storage facilities.

What are the common storage conditions for vaccines?

Most vaccines are stored in a refrigerator at temperatures of between 2 to 8⁰C. Many vaccines require storage within the range of -15 to -50⁰C. Some vaccines require protection from light and are specially packed to prevent UV light from reaching them.

Commonly administered vaccines for mumps, measles, and rubella can be either refrigerated or frozen. Several live-virus vaccines can endure freezing temperatures.  They tend to deteriorate rapidly once they are defrosted. Some inactivated vaccines need a stable temperature of 2 to 8⁰C and might undergo harm if exposed to extreme temperatures. The MMRV vaccine, which contains the live varicella virus, needs to be kept frozen.

Due to the continuous outbreak of relatively new viruses and infections, demand for vaccines is increasing. Manufacturing companies are therefore paying careful attention to training staff. This training concentrates on proper handling of vaccines and regulating the storage and transport conditions set up to safeguard the efficiency of the vaccine. Most vaccines today are stored in cold chains. According to Dickson, storage units widely use data loggers to regulate the temperature and other conditions around the vaccine.

What is cold chain storage?

Cold chain refers to the entire system of transporting and storing vaccines. This system is specially built to maintain optimum temperature conditions for storing vaccines, i.e., a range of 35°F (2°C) to 45°F (8°C). The cold chain begins at the point the vaccine is manufactured. It continues throughout the transport of the vaccines across different states, countries, or even continents. The cold chain ends when the local immunization provider vaccinates the recipient.

Each step in the transportation is crucial; the slightest error can alter the vaccine’s potency. Excess heat, direct sunlight, fluorescent light, or extremely low temperature can alter these biological substances. The most alarming part is that we cannot reverse the loss of a vaccine’s efficacy. This leads to product damage, loss of money, and a gap between the supply chain and consumer demands.

Maintaining a cold chain requires a well-planned setup, measuring devices, and trained personnel for managing all the components together. Some of the necessary equipment to store and transport vaccines at a consistent temperature range are:

  1. A dedicated refrigerator for storage.
  2. Data loggers to sense, regulate and record the temperature of the storage facility many times each day.
  3. Special packaging boxes for shipping and storing vaccines.
  4. Ice packs to maintain a cold surface area around the vaccines.
  5. Shredded paper, Styrofoam, or bubble wrap to separate ice packs from vaccines when kept in cold boxes.

Until the vaccines are administered, they must not be taken out of the iceboxes. Once taken out, the vaccines need to be used immediately before the exposure to average temperature tampers its potency.

Covid-19, vaccines and cold chains

Covid-19 is one disease the world will never forget. While we recall the massive human losses it caused, we cannot overlook the rigorous work the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors performed to provide as much aid as possible. Cold chains played an essential role in facilitating the movement of vaccines across borders.

Storing such vast quantities of Covid-19 vaccines was, and continues to be, a challenging task. From specific ultra-cold freezers to thermal shipping containers, manufacturers, hospitals, and immunization centers came together to form a robust cold chain process. However, in numerous instances a tremendous loss of vaccine doses occurred due to improper storage.

How were vaccines historically stored?

The early development of the vaccine cold chain involved numerous challenges in terms of technology and resources. A method to monitor the accurate temperature of vaccines or register the exact damage points when the vaccines were exposed to heat, pressure, or humidity was lacking. These problems led to losses, but they also urged researchers to develop innovations to transform the cold chain system. As a result, the market witnessed the invention of temperature-sensitive vial monitors as an alternative to standard glass bottles. Cold chains shifted from using mercury thermometers to data loggers for accurate temperature control and data storage. Portable refrigeration equipment and cold boxes became prevalent in the industry.

Along with the changes in logistics, the cold chain system adapted a standard foundational policy and immunization infrastructure. Special training programs were developed for technicians, workers, managers, and others related to the cold chain. With technology, the current developments are focused on easy access, better management, and prompt transportation.

Technology such as data loggers and specialized freezers have been instrumental in providing a dynamic cold chain storage setup. With the increase in demand, the industry needs to develop more inventions that empower the medical sector to tackle upcoming situations like the Covid-19 outbreak.

Vaccination manufacturers and dispatchers need provisions for catering to the needs of numerous people who look up to the medical sector with hope. Providing an ideal environment for storing vaccines is equivalent to saving lives and enhancing medical infrastructure on a global scale.

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