June 28, 2017

Best Practices for Transporting Vaccines

Written by SmartSense

The CDC does not recommend the transport of vaccines - with good reason. However, there are ways to do it safely in an emergency situation.

Refrigerated and frozen vaccines must maintain their optimal temperature values to preserve their potency. Transporting them only multiplies the opportunities for temperature loss due to the potential of uninsulated packaging, warm storage spaces in transport vehicles, or improper coolant materials. All the more reason that being able to monitor vaccines’ temperature directly inside the container is essential to ensure potency. In this post, we’ll review some of the best practices for proper vaccine transport.

Vaccine Transport Containers and Materials

Proper supplies are essential for the safe transport of vaccines. These should include at a minimum:

  • Portable vaccine refrigerator and freezer units
  • Hard-sided insulated containers
  • Coolant materials (e.g., frozen water bottles)
  • Insulating materials (e.g. bubble wrap or corrugated cardboard): enough to form two layers per container 

  • Digital Data Logger for each container 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 4.36.30 PM.pngDo not use commercially available soft-sided coolers. Most are poorly insulated and likely to be negatively affected by ambient temperatures.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 4.36.30 PM.pngDo not use frozen gel packs or coolant packs from vaccine shipments. Even if they are conditioned or appear to be sweating, they can cause vaccines to freeze.

Emergency Vaccine Packing and Transport 

Improper packing for transport is as risky for vaccines as a failed storage unit. To help make sure your vaccines arrive safely, follow these procedures for emergency packing and transport: 


  • Be sure to reach out to the alternative facility before beginning transport to ensure that they have a working generator and have space to safely store your vaccines.
  • Take an inventory of your vaccines and record actions taken to protect them.

  • Do not open unit doors unless it is absolutely necessary.

  • Use appropriate methods and materials prepared by the CDC.


  • If you have a large quantity of vaccines or are transporting for a long distance, rent a refrigerated, temperature-controlled truck.  
  • If using a noncommercial vehicle, transport vaccines only inside the passenger compartment—never put vaccines in the trunk of a car.
  • Don’t leave containers in areas exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Check vaccine temperature upon arrival at the alternative vaccine storage facility to make sure they have stayed within range, and immediately store vaccines at recommended temperatures.
  • Check with your immunization program for additional guidance and resources on emergency transport of vaccines, particularly in major emergencies. 

Transport of Diluents

Transport diluents with their corresponding vaccines to ensure there are always equal amounts of vaccines and diluents.

  • Follow the manufacturer’s guidance for specific temperature requirements.
  • If diluents normally stored at room temperature are transported with refrigerated vaccines, they should be refrigerated in advance so they don’t raise the container temperature.

  • Place an insulating barrier (e. g., bubble wrap) between the diluents and coolant material. 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 4.36.30 PM.pngNever freeze diluents, not even during transport.

Transport of Varicella-Containing Vaccines

If varicella-containing vaccines must be transported during an emergency, The CDC recommends using both a portable vaccine freezer unit and a temperature monitoring device. You should also be sure to record the following:

  • The time vaccines are removed from the storage unit and placed in the container
  • The temperature during transport
  • The time at the end of transport when vaccines are placed in a stable storage unit

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 4.36.30 PM.pngDo not use dry ice, even for temporary storage. It might expose the vaccines to temperatures colder than -50° C (-58° F).

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 4.36.30 PM.pngTransported varicella-containing vaccines must be used or discarded. Do not put back in the freezer.

The Importance of Wireless Sensors

As the example of varicella-containing vaccines demonstrates, a best practice for transporting ALL vaccines is to use a wireless digital data logger for continuous temperature monitoring.

Our sensors are perfect for monitoring throughout the cold chain. The sensors can be deployed directly inside of trucks or other vehicles across the cold chain to continuously monitor the temperature of vaccines and medications throughout transit. If the temperature of the truck goes out of the recommended range, you will be immediately alerted. Using continuous monitoring devices is an effective way to ensure the safety of your vaccines and medications.

Topics: Pharmacy Safety

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