Thermal Damping For Temperature Monitoring Vaccine & Drug Storage Applications

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Janice Bennett-Livingston
Jan 09th 2015
Science & Sensing Technologies
Life Science

In this week's blog, we are looking at temperature monitoring in refrigerators that store vaccines, drugs and biologicals, which are typically maintained between 2 and 8° Celsius.

First: two key do­­cuments you need to read while figuring out how to monitor temperature for drugs and vaccines:

This is from NIST:
Thermal Analysis of Refrigeration Systems Used for Vaccine Storage: Report on Pharmaceutical Grade Refrigerator and Household Refrigerator/Freezer

Another crucial paper on temperature monitoring is from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention titled,
Vaccine Storage & Handling Toolkit

Both of these documents (and others) recommend placing temperature monitoring probes into a thermal buffer, such as a bottle filled with glycol, to dampen temperature fluctuations and more closely mimic the temperature of refrigerated or frozen products. The CDC guidelines state: "Glycol-encased probes can provide a more accurate reading of actual vaccine temperature and are therefore recommended by CDC."

However, the guidelines also allow for options in materials used as a buffer with the temperature monitoring probe: "The CDC recognizes that some providers may use a temperature probe in glass beads to approximate the temperature of the vaccine in a vial and is currently working with NIST to evaluate their performance. Until more data are obtained, temperature probes in a buffer, like glass beads, are allowable…CDC may revise its recommendations and allowable buffered substitutes at a later date pending the outcome of the NIST evaluation."



For the Vaisala viewLinc monitoring system we use either epoxy-encapsulated NTC thermistors, or RTDs connected to our data loggers to monitor temperature in these applications. Our thermistors and RTDs often require thermal buffering to prevent rapid temperature fluctuations associated with opening a refrigerator door. Instead of fluid filled bottles, we designed a small aluminum cylinder for thermal buffering. It's simple, unbreakable, and of similar thermal mass to the standard glycol-filled bottle.

However, as noted in the NIST paper (link above), not all data loggers are created equal in terms of usability. It's worth nothing that the researchers at NIST found that temperature data loggers that use external probes don't need to equilibrate after being placed into a refrigerator. They wrote:

"To download data, we simply detached the main unit from the cable, leaving the probe inside the refrigerator. The main unit was then connected to a USB data collection cradle, which allowed us to transfer the data to a computer… "

We've found that this type of probe + logger configuration has worked best for our customers and the thermal block is a small, elegant solution for thermal buffering in temperature monitoring applications. Simpler is (usually) better.

Many customers also use the viewLinc Continuous Monitoring software for temperature monitoring. The system supports real-time monitoring and alarming, with audit-friendly reporting for historical data.

One last thing… the main objective of the NIST and CDC researchers was to evaluate the suitability of various types of refrigerators for storing temperature sensitive products. To do this, they used an array of temperature monitoring sensors to map the thermal conditions in the refrigerators and evaluate temperature uniformity. It's probably no surprise that a typical dormitory refrigerator is not the best choice for storing sensitive products. If you want to map your own refrigerators, big or small, we have a solution for you.


A New Generation of Quality

Think Quality Engineers are stuffy old guys studying ISO standards? Think again... At Vaisala, we have some young folk so excited about their work, it has them singing! (Well, sort of ... rapping anyway.) The video is in Finnish, but we think flow like this is a universal language! There's at least one word in English (we think, it goes by kind of fast).




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Janice Bennett-Livingston

Marketing Manager

In addition to editing the Vaisala Life Science blog, Janice Bennett-Livingston is the Global Life Science Marketing Manager for Vaisala's Industrial Measurements business area.

Pre-Vaisala writing credits include a monthly column called "Research Watch" for Canada's award-winning magazine alive, as well as articles in Canadian Living and other periodicals. Other past work: copywriting for DDB Canada, technical writing at Business Objects, and communications specialist for the British Columbia Child & Family Research Institute.

James Tennermann

Business Development Manager

James worked for Vaisala since 2001 in various roles. He provided oversight, guidance, and development for Vaisala's rapidly growing life science business segment in North and South America. He has been creating new pathways to new customers by doing extensive collaboration with scientists, engineers, and business people, internally and externally.