What is a vaccine cold chain?

What makes up a cold chain?

A seamless cold chain combines three equally important elements:

  • Equipment: in most cases, the best storage option is a pharmaceutical-grade unit, specially designed for housing vaccines. Unlike the freezer where you keep your ice cream, these can cost upwards of $15,000. Specialized portable coolers are also important for moving vaccines from one location to another.
  • Personnel: staff and volunteers tasked with handling vaccines must be thoroughly trained on safe storage and transportation practices. This is particularly important because different vaccines require different conditions.
  • Processes: vaccinating facilities must have clear, detailed, and up-to-date instructions for vaccine handling — plus contingency plans in case of emergency. What if the facility loses power? What if there’s a weather event? These questions and more should have thorough answers.

What happens if the chain breaks?

Vaccines can only protect against disease if they’re delivered safely. Overexposure to heat, cold, or light can compromise vaccine quality. Not only does this diminish the vaccine’s effectiveness; it also leads to wasted vaccine supply and financial loss. Between spoiled vaccines, replacement costs, and administrative expenses, cold chain errors cost healthcare shippers billions of dollars a year.

How we help

For more than 30 years, Rotary members have been supporting the safe transport of polio vaccines to every corner of the globe. When it comes to COVID-19, we’re just as committed to bringing vaccines to all. Learn more about how we’re playing our part: http://on.rotary.org/covid19efforts.


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