The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevent between 2 and 3 million deaths per year, and that this figure would rise by 1.5 million if all children received recommended vaccinations (1). The careless storage and monitoring of vaccines makes achieving this goal harder across the globe.
A study published earlier this year in Vaccine, by Celina Hanson of UNICEF and her colleagues, suggests that exposing vaccines to freezing temperatures is alarmingly common. When aluminum-containing vaccines freeze, the aluminum oftentimes irreversibly conglomerates causing a permanent loss of efficacy.
Dr. Hanson and her team reviewed various papers published between 2006 and 2015 to assess how often vaccines are exposed to lower than acceptable temperatures. The team identified 21 relevant studies which were conducted throughout 18 countries. The studies represented data from wealthy and impoverished countries. Research was gathered from America, China, India, and various African states. Vaccines were identified to be stored in various types of cold storage ranging from small dorm style refrigerators all the way up to cold rooms.
The problem of exposing vaccines to low temperatures was far worse in the wealthier countries, versus poor. Dr. Hanson found research indicating that, on average, 38% of vaccine shipments in the wealthier countries and 19% in poorer countries had experienced low temperatures. Across the board, approximately a third of vaccines were stored below the recommended temperature (1).
According to a study, which was conducted in America and published in 2011, places with a higher proportion of refrigerators with temperatures below zero also had higher rates of pertussis (whooping cough). A ten-year-old piece of research from Mongolia, where temperatures in winter can be as low as -55°C, found that children vaccinated against hepatitis B in winter months were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed subsequently with that disease as those vaccinated in other months (1).
Continuous temperature monitoring can prevent compromised vaccine from being administered, but that requires nurses to check temperatures regularly. Facilities without temperature monitoring have no way to know if vaccine has been exposed, and there is no way to know if the vaccine has been compromised when looking at it with the naked eye.
Proper cold storage equipment can mitigate the risks associated with exposing vaccines to out of range temperatures. Medical-grade refrigerators provide uniform, stable environments to ensure that vaccines are kept within the required temperature range at all times, even after consecutive door openings. Built in temperature monitoring and alarms help ensure that your vaccines are always stored within the appropriate temperature range and that you are alerted if the temperature goes out of acceptable range.
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- "Managing Supplies of Vaccines Is a Huge Problem." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 01 Apr. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.