The journey of a vaccine: a journey at optimal temperatures for its conservation

UNICEF supports the strengthening of the vaccine cold chain and the Expanded Programme on Immunization in Venezuela

Sendai Zea, UNICEF Venezuela Communications Officer
The UNICEF Venezuela Immunization Specialist, Melvin Mora, checks the vaccine monitor device to make sure it was kept at optimal levels during its transfer.
©UNICEF Venezuela/2021/Fernández
05 April 2021

Vaccination saves millions of children each year around the world. Their effectiveness depends on ensuring that they are kept at the right temperatures throughout the journey, from the time they are manufactured until the moment of vaccination.

In Venezuela, UNICEF supports national authorities’ efforts to strengthen the cold chain, which makes it possible for vaccines to reach every child in perfect condition.

But what the cold chain is, we talked to Melvin Morán, Immunization Specialist at UNICEF Venezuela. He explains that the cold chain is the process to store, manage and distribute vaccines in a limited temperature range to guarantee their potency (protection against preventable diseases).

The cold chain must be tracking throughout the journey of a vaccine, i.e., in a limited temperature range for no losing its potency. Once a vaccine loses its potency, it cannot be regained or restored.  

The arrival of vaccines at the main airport in Venezuela. In 2020, UNICEF brought more than 7.3 million doses of vaccines in a coordinated effort with the Pan American Health Organization and national authorities.
©UNICEF Venezuela/2020/Vera
The arrival of vaccines at the main airport in Venezuela. In 2020, UNICEF brought more than 7.3 million doses of vaccines in a coordinated effort with the Pan American Health Organization and national authorities.

Melvin says that as soon as the vaccines arrive in the country, they are unloaded from the plane in cold boxes and then transported in refrigerated vehicles to the national and regional storage facilities, in coordination with the authorities.

Entry of yellow fever and polio vaccines to the national vaccine store.
©UNICEF Venezuela/2021/Fernández
Entry of yellow fever and polio vaccines to the national vaccine store.
Entry of yellow fever and polio vaccines to the national vaccine store.
©UNICEF Venezuela/2021/Fernández

“Once vaccines are received, they must be stored at the proper temperatures, according to the type of vaccine. Today, for example, we are receiving almost 2 million doses of the polio vaccine, which requires a cold chain between +2° and +8°C”, says the Immunization Specialist during a visit to the country’s national vaccine storage facility.

“We also have other cold rooms where we store vaccines that must be kept at negative temperatures, i.e., below 0°C”, he adds.

Melvin Morán, immunization specialist, along with Rafael Vásquez and Víctor Soler, from the UNICEF Venezuela supply and logistics team during a visit to the national vaccine warehouse.
©UNICEF Venezuela/2021/Fernández
Melvin Morán, immunization specialist, along with Rafael Vásquez and Víctor Soler, from the UNICEF Venezuela supply and logistics team during a visit to the national vaccine warehouse.

As part of its work plan in Venezuela, UNICEF contributes to procuring the vaccines agreed by the health authorities for the country’s national immunization programme. UNICEF also checks that the doses delivered comply with international quality standards and that a continuous temperature monitoring device accompanies each delivery.

Melvin Morán, the immunization specialist for UNICEF Venezuela, holds a temperature indicator device that accompanies vaccines during their transit.
©UNICEF Venezuela/2021/Fernández
Melvin Morán, the immunization specialist for UNICEF Venezuela, holds a temperature indicator device that accompanies vaccines during their transit.

The storage facility, however, is not the final destination; next, the vaccines must be transported to the immunization posts. This requires special carrier boxes, lined with ice packs to keep the vaccines at the appropriate temperature and equipped with continuous temperature monitoring devices. Health workers are responsible for conducting these temperature checks from the point of dispatch to the point of use where the vaccines are administered to children. This process ensures that the quality and potency of the vaccines remain unchanged.

Melvin Moran, the Immunization Specialist for UNICEF Venezuela, checks conditions of arrival at the warehouse for polio vaccines.
©UNICEF Venezuela/2021/Fernández
Melvin Moran, the Immunization Specialist for UNICEF Venezuela, checks conditions of arrival at the warehouse for polio vaccines.

“To ensure vaccines can be transported and properly stored, UNICEF Venezuela is strengthening the cold chain by acquiring cold boxes, vaccine carriers, freezers, solar refrigerators, refrigerated vehicles, and boats with cooling systems to transport vaccines in hard-to-reach river areas, as well as power plants that enable the chain to operate”, says Melvin Morán.

“We are providing thermometers that will alert health workers to any change in temperature so that they can check that the vaccines are at the right temperature”, he adds.

A nurse prepares vaccines during a vaccination day supported by UNICEF in the Catia community located in Caracas.
©UNICEF/UNI371081/Párraga
A nurse prepares vaccines during a vaccination day supported by UNICEF in the Catia community located in Caracas.

With this equipment, UNICEF Venezuela supports the country’s efforts to strengthen and maintain its cold chain, thus ensuring the quality of the vaccines that reach children and their mothers.

Paulina, 10, is vaccinated at a health center in Bolívar state, where UNICEF has distributed vaccines for Polio, Yellow Fever, Diphtheria-Tetanus Toxoid.
UNICEF/UNI347498/Urdaneta
Paulina, 10, is vaccinated at a health center in Bolívar state, where UNICEF has distributed vaccines for Polio, Yellow Fever, Diphtheria-Tetanus Toxoid.

During the pandemic UNICEF has remained on the ground, supporting efforts to ensure that vaccines travel safely throughout the country. But the need is growing and so we are calling on the international community to support UNICEF efforts to ensure that every Venezuelan child is immunized against preventable diseases.