Vaccines must be stored properly.
Mostly that means that they must be kept at a proper temperature, not getting too hot or too cold, “to protect quality and potency” of the vaccines.
While that can be a challenge in some parts of the world, as they go to great lengths to maintain the cold chain for vaccines, in developed countries, it typically means knowing whether to put the vaccine in the refrigerator or the freezer.
Unless of course something goes wrong…
Did your power go out?
Or did someone leave a freezer door open?
Maybe your older freezer just stopped working?
Or maybe someone just unplugged the freezer by mistake.
What do you do if something goes wrong and your frozen vaccines aren’t frozen anymore?
“If you find that a vaccine has been exposed to an inappropriate temperature, determine the reason for the temperature alteration, mark the vaccine “Do Not Use,” and contact the manufacturer or the state or local health department to determine if the vaccine can be used.”
Immunization Action Coalition on Ask the Experts about Vaccine Storage and Handling
Getting educated about proper vaccine storage and handling can avoid many incidents and help you be well prepared if something does go wrong. Once you are all set up and ready to store your vaccines, you just have to know where to put them.
Which Vaccines Need to be Frozen?
While most vaccines are refrigerated, some must be frozen.
Vaccines that are kept frozen should be stored in a freezer at a temperature of 5°F (-15°C) or colder.
Of available vaccines, only non-Refrigerator stable Varivax (chickenpox), non-Refrigerator stable ProQuad (the combo of Varicella and MMR or MMRV), and the shingles vaccine (Zostavax) must be frozen.
The MMR vaccine can be stored in either a freezer or a refrigerator.
The only time non-Refrigerator stable Varivax and non-Refrigerator stable ProQuad can be stored in a refrigerator (36° to 46°F, 2° to 8°C), is if you are going to reconstitute and use them within 72 hours. If the vaccines have been out of a freezer, and you don’t use them within 72 hours, then they must be discarded. You can’t put them back in the freezer.
Also, a reconstituted ProQuad vaccine can be stored at room temperature, protected from light, for up to 30 minutes. You must discard the vaccine if you don’t use it within that time though. It can’t be refrozen or refrigerated.
Making things a little more confusing, refrigerator stable versions of Varivax and ProQuad are also available. They have a shelf life of 24 months when refrigerated, but may also be stored in a freezer.
What To Know About Storing Vaccines in a Freezer
Vaccines must be kept at a proper temperature, not getting too hot or too cold, “to protect quality and potency” of the vaccines.
More About Storing Vaccines in a Freezer
- AAP – Immunization Training Guide & Practice Procedure Manual
- CDC – Vaccine Storage and Handling
- Vaccine Storage and Handling Resources
- Ask the Experts about Vaccine Storage and Handling
- Checklist for Safe Vaccine Storage and Handling
- FDA – MMR (package inserts)
- FDA – Varivax (package inserts)
- FDA – ProQuad (package inserts)
- FDA – Zostavax (package inserts)