What to do with your Medical Refrigerator when the Power Goes Out

Since the invention of the first “arm-to-arm” inoculations in the late 18th century, vaccines have saved millions of lives, with over 2 million unnecessary deaths prevented last year alone. Recent advances in technology have also meant that these vaccines are increasingly available to people who need them across the globe. However, some remote reaches of the globe (and, indeed, the United States) have unreliable electricity. In the event of a natural disaster, a scientific refrigerator or lab freezer may experience a power outage at the exact moment that people are in desperate need of medical care. In those instances, here are the steps you should take to prevent vaccine spoilage.

First, and most importantly, do not open the door.

It’s important to keep vaccines insulated and protected from outside elements, if possible. The CDC recommends
only opening the door of a scientific refrigerator if power is restored or if you know that you can move the contents of the unit to a cooler for transport. In the meantime, it is recommended that you record the range of temperatures outside of the medical refrigerator.

When power is restored, check that the vaccines are still at the ideal temperature.

Just as you should monitor that your scientific refrigerator is operating at five degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) at the start of the day, determine if the vaccines are out of the desired range. Products out of the ideal range should be discarded immediately. Even if the temperature range is normal, the FDA recommends running a quality control check or contacting the vaccine manufacturer.

If you don’t know when power will return, prepare to use emergency storage.

Ideally, you should have a portable scientific refrigerator or pharmacy grade refrigerator and coolant materials. The FDA recommends storing vaccines on ice or dry ice, while the CDC adds that vaccines can be insulated with packing materials such as Styrofoam, bubble wrap, and cardboard, in addition to other coolants. It is also recommended that you consult with your state’s immunization program for best practices. Any vaccines that have been transported this way should be double-checked for spoilage.

There are millions of children worldwide who do not receive the vaccines they need to make it to a healthy adulthood. Expanding access to them with proper equipment, such as with a benchtop freezer or vaccine storage refrigerator can change their lives for the better, but no lab is completely foolproof. Taking precautions to protect your vaccines before there is an emergency can not only save you from having to invest in new product, but it can save lives as well.

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