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Vaccines and the Cold Chain

A cold chain is a temperature-controlled storage and supply chain. An unbroken cold chain is an uninterrupted series of refrigerated production, storage and distribution. The goal is that a product, vaccine or sample continually maintains a specific low-temperature range.

Introduction to Cold Supply Chain / Cold Storage Chain

For the public, cold chains mean access to chilled dairy products and trustworthy frozen seafood. In law enforcement, a cold storage chain can protect evidence that would otherwise decompose or deteriorate in higher temperatures. For the death care industry, a cold storage chain ensures that family members can achieve the mourning process their culture requires without offensive decomposition.

In the healthcare, hospital and medical research sectors, meticulous adherence to cold storage chain standards ensure that samples are usable, that pharmaceuticals remain potent, and that vaccines are effective. 

  • There is also a reverse cold chain concept: a system of storing and transporting samples at recommended temperatures from the point of collection to the final destination at a lab.

Here, we’ll focus mostly on the cold storage chain and reverse cold chain as it relates to vaccine development and vaccine storage. If you’d like to learn more about our med freezers and lab freezers or have questions beyond this article’s scope, reach out to ABS.

Cold Chain Logistics Basics

Cold chain logistics include all the means to ensure a constant low temperature for a sample or product — from the time it is collected / manufactured, until the time it is examined or administered. A cold chain is considered a science, a technology and a process.

  • A cold chain can be considered a science, as it requires an understanding of the chemical and biological processes associated with deterioration. 

  • It’s also technology. A cold storage chain relies on physical means to measure and maintain low temperatures.

  • And finally, it’s a process: as a series of tasks must be performed to manufacture, store, transport and monitor temperature-sensitive materials.

Per the World Health Organization (WHO), essential elements of cold chain logistics include:

  • Personnel to manage vaccine distribution

  • Equipment for vaccine storage & transport

  • Equipment maintenance

  • And monitoring

This segues nicely into our next focus: the responsibility for vaccine storage and handling, and cold storage equipment needed for vaccines.

Vaccine Storage Equipment — On “Cradle to Grave” Levels of Liability 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Proper vaccine storage and handling practices play a vital role in protecting individuals and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccine quality is the shared responsibility of everyone, from the time vaccine is manufactured until it is administered.” 

From the time a vaccine is manufactured in a plant, through its stay in storage, delivery to a hospital or practitioner’s office — and until a dose is administered to a patient — the responsibility of low-temperature storage is shared among all individuals and organizations involved. 

Other industries call this “cradle to grave” liability. Though in the realm of vaccines, it could be better named “cradle to patient.”

Who Needs to Know About Vaccine Cold Storage Chain & Best Practices?

Every nurse and attending staff member needs to have a solid understanding of the cold storage chain at a private practice. Every individual in a laboratory setting should also have a clear understanding of the importance of cold storage! The effects of a broken cold storage chain can ripple out throughout a practice, into a community and beyond. We’ll take a closer look at that in a moment.

Refrigerated & Frozen Vaccine Best Handling Practices

Naturally, refrigerated vaccines and frozen vaccines have different handling and storage protocols. Need to refresh your memory? We’ve provided the links below. 

CDC Resources for Temperature Monitoring and Storage Best Practices

What Happens When the Cold Chain is Broken? 

When the cold storage chain is broken, vaccines lose effectiveness. These doses probably won’t directly harm the patient. However, they would cause patients — and possibly entire communities — a false sense of safety in the face of vaccine-preventable diseases. In turn, this could lead to high numbers of diseases, discomfort and even death.

Imagine what could happen if the med refrigerator at a pediatrician’s practice were to provide faulty temperatures or malfunction in some other way.

  • Groups of children could be left susceptible to diseases like tetanus and rubella.

  • The practitioner would come under close scrutiny, and be found liable for malpractice.

  • In the local community, hospitals might find themselves overwhelmed.

  • Worst of all, many of our most precious patients would fall ill. 

At the other end of the spectrum, consider the responsibility of a Medicare provider who deals with aging adults. An unprotected senior might behave differently than one who thinks he or she has “had all the shots.” If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that seniors remain our most sensitive risk group. We know that multiple health conditions can quickly stack up, leading to severe illness and death. 

Our Role at ABS

American Biotech Supply provides a full range of temperature controlled equipment for healthcare, hospital, laboratory and clinical research, pharmaceutical, and industrial customers. Our extensive portfolio of quality products ranges from small capacity countertop / under-counter refrigerators and freezers to special purpose, application-specific freezers. We also specialize in cryogenic freezers for long-term sample preservation.

All ABS products are designed in various configurations, from general purpose cold storage to medical and pharmaceutical storage with stringent temperature requirements. With over 25 years of experience, the team at ABS is proud to develop customer solutions at competitive prices, all while providing the best customer service in our field. 

If you’d like to learn more about any of our cold storage solutions, contact ABS today.

Related Reading & Resources:

CDC: Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit

CDC: Vaccine Storage and Handling



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