For most of us, a power outage is a sudden and temporary inconvenience that leaves us without our beloved gadgets and internet (that is, until the battery in your iPhone dies). But for vaccine storage, it's clear that a power outage brings larger and more troublesome obstacles.
It is virtually unavoidable to prevent all power failures. Storage faciilities must have back-up plans and back-up equipment to prepare for a power outage. Courtesy of the CDC's latest toolkit, here are a few procedures that you should be implementing in your power outage solution.
1. Do not allow vaccines to remain in a nonfunctioning unit for an extended period of time, if you cannot forsee an immediate 'uptime' for the facility.
A homeowner might know this one instinctively; a power outage that lasts several hours can compromise the food in a home refrigerator/freezer. Though the food may be able to sustain an hour or two without cooling, it will eventually become a breeding ground for bacteria. Vaccines, on the other hand, are only effective when the temperature is kept within the required range. Avoid this by moving vaccines into emergency/secondary storage units as soon as possible after an outage.
Generally, for attenuated vaccines (of which contain a weakened form of the actual virus), exposure to heat and light can compromise the contents. Be sure to move these vaccines to cooler zones immediately during a power outage. On the opposite side, inactivated vaccines are sensitive to freezing temperatures. However, it is difficult to determine whether inactived vaccines are frozen/affected by variable temperatures, and a simple "eye test" is never sufficient. Stay tuned for next weeks post on the differences between attenuated and inactivated vaccines.
2. If you are certain that power will be restored before comprimising temperatures can settle in, continue to use caution and be safe, not sorry.
Do NOT open a storage unit door until the power has been completely restored. Even if the outage is temporary, make sure to avoid exposing vaccines to uncontrolled and uncertain temperatures. Vaccine storage is really a calculated science, and the environment outside of the storage unit represents uncertainty, fluctuation, and variation (not helpful). Whereas on the inside, the temperature and climate are controlled, certain, and show very little fluctuation (ideal for vaccines). In an outage, keep vaccines in their proper dwelling, and be sure not to disturb the natural (and controlled) temperature within the units.
3. Once power is restored:
Check all refrigerators and freezers that have been affected by the loss of power. make sure to to mark storage units that have moved beyond their set thresholds (Refrigerator 2C-8C , Freezer -50C and -15C). Document the changes in temperature from the thresholds, and make sure to indicate how long vaccines were out of their required range. Such information is highly useful for disaster recovery plans, and can provide insight for future outages. If you ever have suspicions about a vaccine(s) after a power outage, be sure to mark these with a "DO NOT USE" label and store them seperately. The key is to isolate the affected vaccines, and ensure that they're handled carefully after a power outage. With thorough planning, robust procedures, and attention to detail, affected vaccines can be recovered and bacterial growth can be averted afrer power outages.