Before talking about what makes a vaccine fridge unique, it is important to understand why they need to do it. Vaccines are temperature sensitive. Like milk, if you let it get too warm, it will have a shorter shelf life. But milk can be frozen and still used. Vaccines can not be frozen. It kills them. There are some exceptions, but overall, frozen vaccines are dead vaccines.
In Australia the requirement is for vaccines to be stored between 2°C and 8°C. There was a big campaign to “Strive for 5” (see www.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/DF94731AD8CBF34ECA2575BD001C8129/$File/strive-4-five.pdf)
The aim of a vaccine fridge
So if vaccines must be stored between 2° and 5° the aim of a vaccine fridge is to reliably control the temperature between these ranges.
The aim of a domestic fridge is to “try to keep my stuff cool”. How often have you pulled out a frozen item out of your fridge?
This article will cover the differences between a domestic and vaccine fridge. There are now a number of domestic fridges that have many of these advanced features and this will increase with time.
The special features of a vaccine fridge
Probably the biggest difference is that a vaccine fridge has a micro-processor (like a computer) controlling it. It determines when the fridge compressor should turn on and off. A domestic fridge has a dial that turns the compressor on, and no control over when it should turn off.
The next big difference is that a vaccine fridge is fan forced. This ensures a more even temperature distribution throughout the fridge. This is similar to a fan forced oven. Over stocking a fridge will compromise this and the reason why you should buy a larger fridge if possible.
The built-in processor offers extra capabilities as well. Displaying the temperature on the outside of the fridge allows staff to check what is going on. This is an expensive thermometer but it is critical that staff are aware of the temperature sensitivity of the vaccines.
The vaccine fridge will also have a number of alarm options. This will include a local buzzer or siren, but can also include external alarm capabilities. So if the door is left open then staff will be quickly notified. In a domestic fridge there are no alarms and it isn’t until the next person uses the fridge that the problem is found.
One feature that I feel is important is a non-exposed cooling plate. Not all vaccine fridges have it, and it makes it possible for product to be pushed against the cooling plate.
Glass doors are also an optional feature. Some people like them because it means the door doesn’t have to be held open, but it does impact on the fridge’s ability to retain heat if power is lost.
It’s all about reliable temperature
So a vaccine fridge has a micro-processor to ensure the compressor turns on and off at the correct temperatures, displays the temperature, has an alarm if a problem occurs. The fridge itself has a fan to circulate the air.
vaccinetemperature.com.au has further information on vaccine storage as well as a free poster offer.
Is it worth the money?
As a supplier of temperature loggers, I know how many domestic fridges have been freezing vaccines. As a parent, I would now say that I would never get a vaccine from anyone who stores it in a domestic fridge. So as an end user, I think they are worth every cent.