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Why Cold Chain Storage Matters to Public Health Centers and Communities

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 25% to 30% of pharmaceutical products, including vaccines and some medications, require cold storage. Cold chain management is important for maintaining the integrity of medications, especially in the context of global health initiatives and vaccination programs.

Proper thermal storage is essential for certain medications to maintain their stability, potency, and effectiveness. Medications that are sensitive to temperature fluctuations often need to be stored within a specific temperature range to ensure their therapeutic efficacy. Vaccines, in particular, are often sensitive to temperature and may require refrigeration or freezing to maintain their potency.

The temperature requirements can vary among medications; some may require refrigeration, while others may need to be stored at even lower temperatures in freezers. The ultra-low temperature requirements for some vaccines pose challenges for transportation and distribution, especially in regions with limited cold chain infrastructure. Vaccine stability is crucial for maintaining effectiveness. Stability studies are conducted to determine how long a vaccine can be stored without compromising its potency. Each vaccine has a specified shelf life, and storage conditions should be strictly adhered to during distribution.

According to WHO, Africa’s largest-ever immunization drive is active, with COVID-19 vaccines being administered in almost all African countries. Vaccines are the most critical tool to end the pandemic and to save lives and livelihoods. Equitable access to safe and effective vaccines is crucial and Africa must not be left behind. Check out the World Health Organization, COVID-19, Africa Dashboard.

The COVAX facility is a global initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for up to 20% of people in African countries and only distributes vaccines that have received WHO's Emergency Use Listing (EUL). EUL is the WHO gold standard to confirm the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines used in public health emergencies. It also allows countries to speed up regulatory approval and import the vaccine. EUL approved vaccines for Africa are listed below and the Different COVID-19 vaccines use various technologies, such as mRNA, viral vector, or protein subunit. Each technology may have different temperature storage requirements.

  1. Oxford-AstraZeneca, After thawing, the vaccine can only be stored at refrigerated conditions (2–8 °C) for up to 5 days.

  2. Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine initially required ultra-low temperature storage at around -70°C (-94°F). However, it can be stored for a limited time at conventional freezer temperatures of -20°C (-4°F) and for a short period at refrigeration temperatures (2°C to 8°C or 36°F to 46°F).

  3. Moderna's vaccine, while still requiring freezing temperatures, has less stringent requirements than Pfizer's and can be stored at -20°C (-4°F). Moderna can remain stable at refrigerated conditions (2–8 °C) for 30 days; it can be stored for 6 months at −20 °C.

  4. Sinopharm can be stored at 2-8°C for 24 months.

  5. Sinovac needs to be stored and transported between 2-8°C, protected from light and cannot be frozen. The tentative shelf life of the vaccine is 24 months at 2 to 8°C

Various vaccines for preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), varicella (chickenpox), and yellow fever often require refrigeration for storage. Some inactivated or subunit vaccines, such as those for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and human papillomavirus (HPV), typically require refrigeration.

Cold Chain Management For Vaccines

Cold chain management involves a series of temperature-controlled storage and distribution steps to ensure the vaccine's integrity from manufacturing to administration. Ensuring equitable global distribution of vaccines poses challenges due to the need for specialized storage equipment in some cases.

Cold storage solutions include specialized freezers for ultra-low temperatures and regular freezers and refrigerators for vaccines with less stringent requirements. Some vaccines can tolerate short-term storage at higher temperatures, making them more flexible for distribution.

Refrigeration Required for HPV Vaccine Storage to Protect Women’s Health

Proper vaccine storage and handling practices play a very important role in protecting individuals and communities from vaccine-preventable diseases. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), HPV vaccines also need to be protected from light and refrigerated at 2 to 8°C (36 to 46°F) and should not be frozen. If frozen, the vaccine should be discarded.

HPV prevalence is among the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, at an average of 24%. HPV causes different types of cancers, including cervical cancer (CC), which is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in Sub-Saharan Africa. HPV-vaccination has been proven to be effective in reducing HPV induced cancers. WHO has a target of fully vaccinating 90% of girls within the age of 15 by 2030 in Sub-Saharan African countries. According to the National Library of Medicine, cold chain capacities remain an infrastructure challenge to vaccinate young women.

Why the EasyFreeze Is Good for Development in Emerging Markets

Amped has designed and manufactured a cold storage solution that can either be used as a solar-powered refrigerator 4°C (40°F) for medical clinics to store vaccines or a freezer for other micro, small or medium enterprises (MSMEs) use cases.

Read the Efficiency for Access Innovation Report in collaboration with IKEA Foundation and UK Aid about how Amped Innovation has developed an affordable, high-performance, solar-powered fridge/freezer for Africa.


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