For hundreds of years, we’ve relied on vaccinations to protect us from countless illnesses. And today, in the modern lab, the storage and handling of these vaccines are essential. Additionally, they’re not only critical to the success of your lab, but to the health and safety of communities worldwide. Today, with the continuing threat of COVID-19, and the possibility of an impending vaccination, these practices have never been so important.
At SEPS, our commitment to lab safety remains as steadfast as ever. Also, we understand how important it is to enforce proper vaccine protocol within a lab setting. In this post, we’ll discuss the best vaccine storage and handling practices. These guidelines are critical for any labs currently maintaining vaccines, or planning to acquire them. All of these practices are directly from the official recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Written on November 20, 2020, this post contains information on vaccines that are not yet approved and distributed. Therefore, the information is likely to change. SEPS will update our website as new information arises. We encourage readers to visit the WHO and CDC websites for more up to date information on COVID-19 and the developing vaccine.
ULT Freezers and The Vaccine ‘Cold Chain’
First and foremost, in order to understand the requirements for safe vaccine handling, it’s important to understand the cold chain. In the vaccine industry, the cold chain is a critical system. Essentially, the purpose of the vaccine cold chain is to maintain the quality of the vaccine at all times. Obviously, the vaccine must be transported once it’s manufactured. The cold chain ensures it remains in optimal condition throughout the whole process.
In order to preserve the vaccine, it must remain at specific, World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended temperatures at all times. Therefore, the manufacturer, transporter, and administrator all share the same responsibility. Each party must ensure they keep the vaccination at its necessary temperature.
Depending on your role in the cold chain, vaccines must be handled appropriately. For transportation and temporary storage, dry ice has been used for vaccines in the past. However, most facilities that will store and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine will need to choose the right ULT freezer (or ultra low temperature freezer) in order to maintain the proper temperature.
Pharmaceutical Grade Scientific Equipment
Vaccine refrigerators vary by grade and type. Units developed and manufactured specifically for bio-storage are often referred to as “pharmaceutical grade.” Pharmaceutical grade refrigerators have microprocessor-based temperature control with a digital temperature sensor. Also, they feature air circulation with powerful fans or multiple cool air vents within. This ensures steady, uniform temperature and rapid temperature recovery.
The CDC recommends storing vaccines in certified, pharmaceutical-grade scientific equipment to either refrigerate or freeze. However, in the event that these are not available, use a stand-alone, household unit. Never, ever store vaccines in small, bar-style refrigerator/freezer units under any circumstances. Even under temporary circumstances, these units present severe risks of compromising vaccines. For many vaccines, the CDC recommends ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers as the bet possible storage unit.
Lab Maintenance & Cleanliness
Naturally, it’s imperative that wherever you store your vaccines remains in excellent shape. Unfortunately, many facilities often overlook the importance of maintenance and cleanliness when it comes to all their equipment, not just cold storage units. Like anything in your lab, it’s vital to ensure your storage units remains clean and sterile. This is important not just for the quality of the specimen, but also for the health and safety of your employees. Nowadays, we must exercise a heightened sense of caution with everything we do.
Many employees must access these units. Therefore, they are considered high-traffic areas and likely to collect a lot of bacteria. In addition, the substances in question are biological specimens and can easily contaminate the surfaces they come into contact with. Therefore, it’s imperative to ensure that everything in your lab, not just the cold storage unit, receives regular, thorough decontamination.
Implement Lab Safety with a Vaccine Coordinator
In addition to training, each facility should assign the role of vaccine coordinator to a reputable individual. This person will be responsible for ensuring all employees are adhering to proper storage and handling practices. Also, appoint another staff member as an alternate in the absence of the primary coordinator.
This will be especially vital in the event of unforeseen emergencies. Obviously, you must ensure that both coordinators are knowledgable in routine, emergency policies and procedures.
Conclusion – SEPS
For more information on effective storage and handling practices for vaccines, you can visit the official CDC resources. With the COVID-19 vaccination coming closer to fruition, it’s critical for every lab to exercise these policies.
At SEPS, we’ll continue our ongoing commitment to lab safety and cleanliness, and provide any assistance you may need in the future. Our many accreditations and affiliations are a testament to our passion for quality and serving lab in all industries.