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Reliable Vaccine Storage

As much as 35 percent of vaccines shipped worldwide is wasted because it is transported or stored at temperatures too high or too low. NIST’s research is helping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend effective ways for vaccine providers to protect their vaccines and reduce waste.

Photo of scientists checking vaccine temperatures.
Credit: Suplee/NIST
Michal Chojnacky checks vaccine temps. 

NIST scientists uncovered the most likely reasons vaccines might be stored at the wrong temperature. If stored improperly—in an ineffective refrigerator or in a cooler with the wrong number of cold packs, for example—vaccines can get too hot or too cold, making them useless. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has included the results of NIST’s research in its voluntary guidelines for proper vaccine storage and handling.

The CDC’s Vaccines for Children program distributes nearly $4 billion worth of vaccines each year. In addition, immunization providers around the country look to the CDC for guidance on how to store, transport and monitor vaccines under proper, temperature-controlled conditions.

Wasted vaccines from equipment failures at clinics add up to a significant monetary and public health cost. When vaccines are stored at the wrong temperature, embarrassing and costly re-vaccination efforts may be needed, putting communities at risk and eroding public confidence. Many physicians were frustrated with the lack of consistent guidance and information for safely managing their vaccine supplies.

NIST’s researchers designed studies to replicate how providers store and transport vaccines. Those studies led to recommendations about refrigerator type and temperature monitoring equipment, among others. Because they have been incorporated into CDC’s guidelines for vaccine handling and transport, NIST’s findings have been shared with pharmaceutical companies, health clinics and others.