The Vaccine For Children (VFC) Storage Series: Temperature Sensors

If vaccines are not kept cold, they will become less potent. This is a statement that is of course true, and that has been reiterated consistently and frequently by the CDC to those hospitals and clinics that are in the VFC (Vaccines for Children) Program. Keeping vaccines cold may seem as simple as throwing them in a refrigerator when they show up at your door. That’s what we do with food, right?

Unfortunately, it is a little more complicated. While you run the risk of melted ice cream if you don’t get your groceries home fast enough, there is a much greater health risk of not keeping vaccines cold. In the VFC program, vaccines are given to clinics, who then administer them to children for free. Giving a child a vaccine that is “less potent” is not good. It won’t protect them against the disease it is meant to replicate.

Thermometers and Data Loggers

The complications come hand in hand with the importance. While you probably don’t have a thermometer in your fridge, because assuming it’s cold is enough, hospitals and clinics want a thermometer (and actually have to have one) in their refrigerators. They can only have certain types of thermometers, and multiple organizations within the VFC Program either require or recommend specific types of thermometers.

For those in the VFC program, “types,” is much too general of a term. To gain a full understanding of what exactly makes up a “thermometer,” we need to take a step back.

Thermometers show you what the temperature of a given point is. They do this through a temperature sensor and a display. (For a mercury thermometer, the bulb of mercury is the sensor, and the display is the glass scale.)

This is the bare-bones minimum knowledge you have to know to be a part of the VFC program, and honestly to administer any vaccines or drugs. So what else? Data loggers.

Data loggers are devices that log the temperature values the temperature sensor reads. They store that information for later download and viewing, and because they are actively logging your temperature values, they come with a host of other features (alarms, graphs, analysis, etc.). A simple temperature sensor requires you to check the temperature values of your vaccines often, and write down those values so that when an auditor shows up at your door, you can prove that the vaccines you stored never escaped a particular temperature range. A data logger does all that work for you.

So which should you get? A data logger, of course. However, and somewhat sadly, the mantra in VFC programs can lean towards “cost-cutting,” do to expenses elsewhere in the clinic, and the fact that these vaccines are being given out for free to children in need. Data loggers, because of their added function, cost much more than simple temperature sensors (we’ve made the argument that they really don’t, when you consider the labor cost of checking a thermometer often, and the financial risk that comes with administering vaccines with a reduced potency).

Recommendations vs. Requirements

A better question then, should be “Which one do you HAVE to get?” That depends. We wish we could give you a straight answer, but we’d have to know where your clinic or hospital is to do so. The organization of the VFC program starts at the federal level, but the local state, county, and city coordinators ultimately decide what kind of devices you have to have, in order to comply with their regulations.

The CDC recommends data loggers. Plain and simple. As you may be aware, the CDC’s recommendations for vaccine storage are much more progressive, and thus stringent, than many state requirements. As far as temperature sensors go, this is an overview of what the CDC recommends:

    • Thermometers should be digital
    • Thermometers should have a remote probe
    • Remote probes should be submerged in Glycol or glass beads
    • Thermometers should be calibrated with a Certificate of Traceability
    • Thermometers should be calibrated by an accredited laboratory
    • Thermometers should have an accuracy of +/-1F (+/-.5)
    • Thermometers should have an alarm, min/max display, and reset button

What do VFC programs require for temperature sensors? We can’t make claims for every state and every auditor, but here is an example from one state, Alabama, on what they require of their providers:

    • Place thermometer in refrigerator and freezer
    • Check thermometer temperature twice a day
    • Keep a daily log at the door of the refrigerator

That is all the information that we could glean with our initial research on the Alabama Department of Health’s website. As you can see, the requirements differ greatly from the CDC’s recommendations. Depending on the type of thermometer supplied by the Alabama Department of Health to the VFC providers, many of the CDC recommendations may be covered. However, there is no mention of data loggers, accuracy, remote probes, Glycol/glass beads, or calibration.

Just one example of the challenges facing VFC Program participants are the myriad pf different regulations they are expected to follow. What do we recommend? Dickson will always try to make a concerted effort to stay even with the most stringent of regulatory bodies. Thus, it comes as no surprise that we align our own recommendations with that of the CDC.

DISCLAIMER:  Links to and references to CDC are provided for informational purposes only.  CDC does not endorse private products, services or enterprises.