Fragile Handle With Care

By: Jill J. Dunkel

Is your refrigerator running?

That’s a common joke among elementary kids, but when it comes to pharmaceutical storage, it’s not a laughing matter. Multiple university studies have indicated that pharmaceutical efficacy, especially vaccines, can be at risk due to improper handling and storage by livestock producers. Most animal vaccines should be stored between 35-45F. Yet studies show the vast majority – up to 76% of refrigerators used for vaccine storage in the livestock industry failed to maintain those temperatures.

And that’s not the only problem. Improper handling and storage including exposing vaccines to UV light or temperature extremes can render vaccines useless. The vaccine dose itself may not seem like much of a loss, but injecting an ineffective vaccine in a calf might not protect the calf from illness or death. Then the loss makes a much bigger impact on your bottom line.

Temperature swings have a big effect on killed vaccines. But heat is not the only enemy. Freezing temperatures can be just as damaging. According to information from the University of Idaho, freezing temperatures will change the adjuvant structure of the vaccine. This affects efficacy by altering the immune response to the antigen.

Stored modified live vaccines are more stable because they are in a freeze-dried state. However, improper storage can still reduce the efficacy of the product. Once activated, modified live vaccines must be used within 2 hours and kept between 35F and 45F and out of UV light or the product can be damaged.

There are a variety of ways to protect vaccine and ensure its integrity while sitting on your shelf. One of the easiest quality control items available is battery-operated thermometer that sits inside the refrigerator. A minimum/maximum thermometer will track temperature swings of a refrigerator and can alert you to a problem before it becomes a bigger one.

The external environment of a refrigerator can also account for temperature swings or the lack of maintaining a proper temperature. Experts say refrigerators that are exposed to drastic external temperatures have to work harder to maintain a consistent temperature.

Regardless of the quantity of products stored in a temperature-controlled environment, products that are rendered ineffective due to improper storage or products that go unaccounted for can make a significant impact on an operation’s bottom line. For a small producer, keeping an accurate count of products on hand may be as simple as purchasing enough doses to give each cow in a pasture. But larger operations must track inventory, know when to reorder and how to bill each dose used. Tracking and accounting for every dose is critical, but sometimes inventory numbers still don’t match up.

Technology has caught up to the problem, and one company offers a vending-type storage solution that tracks inventory, what employee used it and also monitors the storage environment. Joe Kallal with Apex Supply Chain Technologies said their product is similar to a candy machine, only instead of holding $1 candy bars, it can hold a $5,000 bottle of medicine. Keypads or ID readers control and track access to the inventory.

“Producers have a lot of containers full of expensive pharmaceutical products. These products are often not in a controlled environment like in a hospital. It’s not difficult for someone to pick up an expensive bottle of medicine and walk out,” he said.

In addition to tracking who picks up what, the automated dispensing device monitor’s the storage temperature and alerts someone if there is a problem, potentially saving the supply of pharmaceuticals.

Megan Kennison, Office Manager for SouthRidge Dairy in Idaho said the automated dispensing device has saved her two to three hours of inventory work each week that she previously spent manually counting medicine. And the peace of mind that products are stored at correct temperatures is also valuable.

Chute side storage is also an issue when it comes to protecting product, especially vaccine. Cattle are often worked in open areas where vaccine can get too hot or too cold and be exposed to UV light. Keeping a cooler nearby to store product in is one way to help ensure the stability of the product. But syringe guns sitting on the bed of a pickup truck in between calves can still compromise the product.

Michael Cowley, farm and ranch sales manager at Pierce Sales in Henrietta, Texas, knew their had to be a better way that would be user friendly and long lasting. His company produced a line of “rotomolded” coolers (think hard plastic cooler like a Yeti), and Cowley wondered if they could design a rotomolded cooler specially made for chute side vaccine storage.

After 15 months of design and fabrication planning, the VaxMate was introduced. Extra vaccine is stored inside, and the user-friendly design offers a place for several syringe guns to “rest” in between cattle that is light and temperature controlled.

“Vaccines are expensive. If you have a good vaccination program, that’s the backbone of a good cattle program,” Cowley said. “But if you’re out there vaccinating 100 calves, it will take some time. That vaccine won’t last long on a September day in Texas if it’s exposed to outside elements. If your vaccine is bad, then you’ve wasted time, money and stress on your cattle for nothing.”

Cowley said producers who tried the product in Northern states said it was also great to keep vaccine from freezing. They simply put a jar of warm water in the bottom of the cooler to maintain the proper temperature.

“The VaxMate has a digital temperature gauge on it and will let you know what the temperature is. You can also set a high and a low, so it will alarm you if it’s too cold or too warm.”

Regardless of the method your operation chooses to use, protecting pharmaceutical products is a wise investment that can pay great dividends in healthy cattle.