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Thermal Analysis of Refrigeration Systems Used for Vaccine Storage: Report on Pharmaceutical Grade Refrigerator and Household Refrigerator/Freezer



Michal J. Chojnacky, W Wyatt Miller


Each year, billions of dollars of vaccines are stored in refrigerators at the facilities of a variety of medical providers. Many vaccines must be maintained in the range 2 °C to 8 °C to retain product potency. We have tested the performance of two types of refrigerators to determine if these refrigerators are suitable to this task, and to identify proper storage and temperature monitoring methods. Nineteen calibrated Type T thermocouples, distributed through the refrigerator interior, served as reference thermometers. Attachment of thermocouples directly to vaccine vials gave accurate measurements of the vaccine temperature, which often differed from the air or interior wall temperatures during door openings or defrost cycles. A household type dual-zone refrigerator/freezer [refrigerator compartment capacity = 0.400 m3 (14.13 cu. Ft.)] and a pharmaceutical grade refrigerator [capacity = 0.400 m3] proved fully adequate at maintaining vial temperatures within the desired 2 °C to 8 °C range, independent of how the refrigerators were loaded. Tests of intermittent and continuous door opening and of simulated power outages demonstrated the value of adding water bottles to the door as a thermal ballast in the dual-zone refrigerator model. We tested five electronic data loggers as a means of continuously logging refrigerator temperatures. Properly located, data loggers accurately monitored vial temperatures for extended periods.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) -


cold chain monitoring, Centers for Disease Control, digital temperature logger, vaccine refrigerator, vaccines for children, vaccine storage and handling
Created August 2, 2012, Updated February 19, 2017