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The Ultimate Guide to Vaccine Storage and Handling for Independent Pharmacies

The Ultimate Guide to Vaccine Storage and Handling for Independent Pharmacies by Elements magazine |

March 12, 2018

Inside: Vaccines are ultra-sensitive to variable temperatures. And vaccine storage requires care and attention. Learn how to properly store and handle vaccines in your pharmacy to ensure their safety and efficacy.

You already know offering vaccines and immunizations can help your pharmacy grow.

Vaccines provide extra revenue and can drive more foot traffic to your independent pharmacy. And you probably already offer them considering that 74 percent of independent pharmacies do. (According to the 2017 NCPA Digest.)

But more operational requirements go hand in hand with the service. Namely, you have to figure out how to store and handle the vaccines—without ruining them.

Vaccines are incredibly sensitive to temperatures. They can go from good to bad in a heartbeat.

Improper storage and handling can reduce or destroy the potency of the vaccines, making them ineffective.

And that can cost your pharmacy thousands of dollars in inventory. Not to mention the immeasurable dollars from your patients’ lost trust.

Make sure you know the best practices for storing and handling vaccines. Here’s a condensed guide on vaccine storage and handling, adapted from a toolkit by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These Are the Best Practices for Receiving Vaccines in the Pharmacy

Vaccines need the right care from the time manufacturers create them to the time of administration.

Any exposure to unregulated temperatures reduces vaccines’ potency. And the exposure will eventually ruin them (even when it doesn’t look like it).

When the vaccines arrive at your pharmacy, attend to them immediately. Get them into proper storage.

Choose a specific staff member to handle vaccines. Make sure he or she understands the importance and timeliness of vaccine storage.

When the products arrive, make sure to look thoroughly at:


Pro Tip: The vaccine’s appearance can’t reliably indicate its viability. If you see signs of improper storage or handling, you can’t trust the vaccines.

These Are the Best Practices for Storing Vaccines in the Pharmacy

Where and how you store vaccines will influence their effectiveness.

You need to get the right equipment, use it in the right way, and maintain it properly.

What vaccine storage equipment to use

How you store refrigerated products matters. You either need to store vaccines in refrigerators or freezers, depending on the type.

Whichever equipment you choose to buy needs to maintain the required temperature range year-round. And the refrigerator and freezer need enough capacity to hold the year’s largest inventory.

Look for vaccine refrigerators and freezers designed specifically for storing vaccines. They’re built with advanced sensors and fans that work together to perfectly maintain proper temperatures. (Keep in mind they also cost more.)

Stand-alone refrigerators and freezers work more effectively than combination versions. If you have to use a combination unit, only use the refrigerator portion. The freezers in combined units often don’t maintain temperatures well enough.

Never use “dormitory style” units. (You know, the tiny fridges you took to college and filled with Redbull). They’re terrible at temperature control and will ruin the vaccines.

Where to put the vaccine storage equipment

Where you store your refrigerator and freezer matters less than what equipment you use or how you maintain it. But it still matters.

For your storage unit to cool correctly, it needs good air circulation.

When placing your vaccine storage unit, choose a well-ventilated room. And leave several inches of space on all sides.

What to put your vaccine storage units

Let’s state the obvious first. Don’t put your lunches or beverages in the vaccine fridge.

You also shouldn’t use the fridges to store other temperature-sensitive medications. If you must store items in the same fridge, never store medications in the same containers as vaccines. And don’t store them on the same shelf either.

The only items besides vaccines that can go into your vaccine storage units are water bottles. (Ones you won’t ever drink). Water bottles help maintain a constant temperature.

How to organize vaccines in the storage unit

Placing vaccines in the right spots in the fridge and freezer enable the best temperature control. It also protects vaccines from damage and prevents errors.

The CDC recommends following these best practices:


These Are the Best Practices for Monitoring Vaccines in the Pharmacy

Now that you’ve stored the vaccines properly, they’ll likely maintain consistent temperatures.

But you still need to constantly monitor them. Remember, any exposure to high or low temperatures reduces the vaccines’ potency.

Ideal temperatures of refrigerated and frozen vaccines:


What to look for in temperature monitoring equipment

You need to choose the correct thermometer to check the vaccine storage temperature.

The four main types of thermometers include: 


Each type has strengths and weaknesses. But the CDC recommends using only a calibrated digital data logger (DDL). And one with a current and valid certificate of calibration testing.

DDLs provide the most consistent and reliable temperatures, even though they may be more difficult to install and use.

No matter what thermometer you choose, you’ll need to recalibrate it every year or two. Over time their accuracy decreases.

To ensure the most accurate reading, the CDC recommends these steps for installing the thermometer:


Vaccine temperature monitoring best practices

Implement daily and weekly procedures to ensure you properly monitoring the temperature of vaccines. Dedicate specific staff members to monitor the vaccines to maintain consistency.

Perform these vaccine temperature monitoring practices every day:


Also, review temperature readings and file the information every week. (Keep this documentation for no less than three years). And, check the DDL website for any software notifications.

What to do about out-of-range temperatures

When temperatures rise or fall outside the appropriate range, it’s called a temperature excursion.

There’s no straightforward way to know whether the temperature excursions have rendered the vaccine unusable.

Manufacturers typically analyze three factors to determine the vaccines’ viability: 

1. The magnitude of the temperature excursion
2. The total amount of time of the temperature excursion
3. Information about the vaccine

When you realize vaccines have experienced a temperature excursion, perform these three steps:

1. Keep the vaccines properly stored
2. Separate the vaccines from other vaccine supplies
3. Mark the vaccines as “Do Not Use” until you receive guidance from the manufacturer

How to Maintain Vaccine Storage and Temperature Devices

Regular maintenance of vaccine storage units and temperature equipment ensures their effectiveness. It also increases their lifespan.

Vaccine storage equipment maintenance

Check the airflow of your storage units. Make sure air doesn’t get in or out and that it circulates well.

Check these commonly-missed areas:


Temperature device maintenance

Temperature monitoring devices all lose their accuracy over time.

The only way to counteract the loss is to recalibrate them often.

Test your temperature monitoring devices every one to two years and adjust as needed. Eventually, you’ll need to replace them altogether.

Make sure any replacements have a current and valid Certificate of Calibration Testing (also known as a Report of Calibration).

Now you can keep your valuable vaccine inventory safe and effective with these proper storage techniques.


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