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11 Features to Consider When Buying a Vaccine Refrigerator ​ ​

  • by Lauren Levy
  • May 24, 2021, 08:57 AM

Proper vaccine storage has never been more critical, and ensuring you carefully evaluate vaccine refrigerator options is an important step to making a reliable equipment selection. Poor cold storage and can minimize or eliminate the efficacy of precious vaccines which require refrigeration. The spectrum of equipment styles and features can feel overwhelming, so we've prepared a guide to some of the most relevant details to examine when making this decision.

Medical Grade vs. Domestic

If you're reading this, you are almost certainly aware that domestic refrigerators are unsuitable for maintaining appropriate conditions for storing most vaccines, and in particular, the most fragile types of vaccines. Traditional refrigerators are unable to create the precise and consistent temperatures required for proper vaccine storage, nor are they designed to monitor temperature fluctuations or recover temperatures adequately when a unit's doors are opened.

Door Styles

Regardless of the style of door selected, doors should close with a magnetic gasket to ensure the best possible seal for maintaining a consistent interior temperature.

Insulated vs. Glass

Both insulated and glass doors can provide optimum conditions for vaccine storage. Glass doors have an advantage for inventory control, allowing users to view their contents without opening the door. Insulated doors, however, are better able to maintain appropriate temperatures during a power outage. 

Hinged vs. Sliding

Choosing between hinged and sliding doors will primarily depend on where the unit will be installed and which door style will be most suitable for your working environment.

Size & Shape

The size and shape of the vaccine refrigerator you select will be determined, in large part, by the space available to install it and the volume of vaccines it must safely store. Some requirements to consider include:

  • Clearance — Units must be installed with adequate clearance (generally at least four inches on all sides) for effective operation, particularly the motor must have plenty of air circulation to avoid premature equipment failure.
  • Level — Units must be installed on a level floor and doors should open and close smoothly on hinges or tracks.
  • Storage Capacity — Ensure your vaccine refrigerator has adequate storage space for current and projected needs. Vaccines should usually be stored two to three inches from the inside walls of the unit and with space between rows to maximize airflow and maintain them at required temperatures.

Interior & Shelving

Wire shelving is critical for allowing appropriate circulation of air throughout the refrigerator compartment. This enables the unit to maintain the correct temperature properly. Adjustable shelving allows for the most flexibility in storage.

Temperature Controls

Analog temperature controls are completely inadequate for determining and monitoring the precise temperatures required for safe vaccine storage. Important elements to look for in temperature controls include:

  • Microprocessor/Electronic Control — Digital controls allow for the precision required for reliable vaccine storage conditions
  • Temperature Range — Units should be capable of maintaining a consistent temperature between 2°C and 8°C for refrigerated vaccine storage.
  • Temperature Monitoring Device (TMD) — Measurement of interior temperatures should comply with CDC guidelines, including continuous measurement and recording with a Digital Data Logger (DDL) utilizing a buffered probe for measurement. 
  • Display — Controls should incorporate an easy-to-read display indicating the current temperature as well as the minimum and maximum temperatures the unit has recorded to help identify temperature excursions.
  • Defrosting — Units should automatically defrost, preferably with a cycle defrost technique.

Temperature Recovery

Vaccine handling, particularly for very temperature-sensitive vaccines, includes a strict set of guidelines which health practitioners must follow to ensure vaccines remain effective and potent. While these guidelines incorporate best practices to minimize instances when vaccine storage refrigerators are opened, it must occur with some frequency. Selecting units with fan-controlled, forced draft circulation will allow these refrigerators to effectively maintain and recover appropriate storage temperatures quickly and accurately.

Safety & Security

From a door left ajar or a short power outage to a low battery reading in a temperature probe or interior temperature fluctuations, numerous small issues can become dangerous failures if not detected and managed quickly. Controlling access and maintaining accurate records of storage conditions and staff access create the accountability needed for confident use of valuable vaccines. Some relevant features include:

  • Robust Alarm Systems — A variety of alarms should include, at a minimum, temperature sensor and power failure alerts, door ajar alerts, and all alerts should offer remote contacts for external alarm/notification system integration and multiple notification styles (audible, visible, remote).
  • Data Logging — Temperatures should be automatically logged as part of the temperature control system.
  • Locking Doors — Units should have locking doors to prevent unauthorized access and ensure the safety of their contents.

Efficiency

While the efficiency of a vaccine refrigerator is not likely to be a top priority in a critical time, it is an absolutely worthwhile consideration when selecting a vaccine storage unit. Cold storage can consume a substantial amount of electricity, so identifying models which have achieved the government's Energy Star certification can offer cost savings and added environmental consideration.

Refrigerant Type

Traditional refrigerants involve harmful hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have contributed tremendously to global warming in the decades since they've been used for cooling equipment. Opting for units which use natural hydrocarbon refrigerants, such as R290, offers sustainable, environmentally-friendly and completely effective refrigeration.

Reliability & Warranty

Proper vaccine storage requires top performance 24/7, so it's important that the unit you select is manufactured by a company with a track record of customer satisfaction and quality products. External certification can help you identify these characteristics, such as UL/C-UL listing, and compliance with regulations and guidelines from such organizations as CDC, ASHRAE, EPA/SNAP, and others. Additionally, look for a manufacturer which offers a solid warranty to cover not only parts and labor but also the unit's most critical part, the compressor.

Support

While a good manufacturer should produce equipment and accompanying manuals and other materials that make it easy and straightforward to install and operate, questions often arise. Choose a vaccine refrigerator from a company which offers dedicated support to ensure seamless operation.

At American Biotech Supply, our goal is to provide high-quality equipment that will perform safely and effectively to maintain a critical cold chain. Our pharmacy-grade refrigerators are designed for optimum vaccine storage, with robust functionality and safety features at every price point. Contact us today to discuss your vaccine storage solution with our expert team. 

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