Why install a UPS on a pharmacy refrigerator?

Power Control
18 Nov 2020

With three Covid-19 vaccinations currently approved in the UK and another two on their way to being signed off as safe to use, attention is once again being centred around the sustainability of the vaccination cold chain.

Why is a UPS required for a pharmacy refrigerator?

UPS (uninterruptible power supply) availability extends beyond the typical applications commonly associated with requiring backup power. Unlike applications where a sudden power failure causes data loss or other operational issues, power loss to pharmacy refrigerators or laboratory freezers prevents medical personnel from being able to open the fridge and retrieve vaccinations. Provided the door is unopened, in the event of power loss, a typical medicine fridge will maintain the internal temperature for up to 4 hours.

The recent news of a Coronavirus vaccine breakthrough has brought pharmaceutical refrigerators into the public eye. Mainly highlighting the fact that vaccines, diluents, immunoglobulins and other medicines have precise temperature requirements, most of which must be kept between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius (35.6F to 46.4F). If the temperature rises above 8 degrees Celsius then according to the NHS Green Book, the ‘cold chain’ has been broken and the contents of the fridge must be rendered as damaged and destroyed.

Medicines and vaccinations stored in laboratory freezers have a lower tolerance to temperature fluctuation and depending on the vaccine should be kept between –15 and –50 degrees Celsius (5 to –58F). Unlike other frozen vaccines, the first Covid-19 vaccine must be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94F), must not be removed from that temperature more than four times and once thawed will only last five days before it deteriorates and denatures.

To maintain the proper temperature ranges, the freezer and refrigerator units must be in good working condition and they must have power at all times.

Aside from the Covid-19 vaccinations, which are upwards of £800 million with the two front runners, the cost of routine vaccinations administered by local GPs is in the hundreds of £millions a year.

“After receiving a delivery, we usually have up to £50,000 worth of vaccines being stored in our medical fridge. The worry of anything happening to these vaccines and potentially having to destroy them all often gives our staff sleepless nights.” – this was said by a practice manager during a preliminary site visit.

Having vaccinations destroyed due to a power outage is costly and those who need urgent access to a vaccine may have to wait longer.

What does the UPS backup?

There are strict guidelines surrounding the storage of vaccinations which means a medical fridge outage may not only be a costly inconvenience, but it could also breach regulations. The CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) further highlights the minimum requirement for providing adequate refrigerator conditions:

Steps have been taken to reduce the probability of accidental interruption of the electricity supply”

Switchless sockets and clear labelling are methods typically adopted to achieve the above statement. Whilst this will reduce the probability of human error, if there is a sudden loss of power due to a mains power failure, a switchless socket will not provide an additional source of power to the fridge.

With a UPS system (uninterruptible powers supply) installed, during a mains power failure, the UPS will switch the load over to its batteries keeping a continuous supply of power to the refrigerator and will also protect the equipment from power surges and spikes which could cause thousands of pounds in damage.

Additionally, most laboratory or pharmacy refrigerators and freezers have alarm contacts alerting to the fact that the power has failed, ironically a power failure alarm requires power and will have to be operated on a secondary supply, such as a UPS, due to the mains system being rendered inactive during the outage.

Which UPS most suitable for a pharmacy refrigerator?

Whilst the words ‘UPS system’ often evokes thoughts of large multi megawatt power systems with strings of batteries, they are also available as compact and self-contained single phase units, and power availability depends on what is trying to be achieved and the available budget:

  1. Backing up the contact alarm and acting as an alert to the practice owner

The most budget friendly option, a small UPS will provide enough autonomy to power the alarm contact on the pharmacy refrigerator. This gives the practice owner time to implement a contingency plan and ensures the staff know to keep the door closed until mains power is restored. Additionally, the UPS’ own monitoring software provides a mobile alert when the mains power fails ensuring the situation is not missed outside of opening hours.

  1. Backing up the pharmacy fridge, providing 8-10+ hours of autonomy

Although a more expensive option, backing up the pharmacy fridge with a UPS means vaccines can still be accessed throughout the power cut, which could last hours. It gives peace of mind that if the failure extends beyond the length of time that a fridge can stay cold for without power, the vaccines will not need to be destroyed, saving the practice thousands.

Although the above are the two most common solutions, there are a number of different solutions available to suit all sizes and environments. These compact UPS systems start at 800VA and are available with additional battery boxes. For larger sites with multiple medical applications, three phase UPS systems can be installed alongside single phase units.

Recommended UPS Sytems

Power Control offers a range of single phase uninterruptible power supplies suitable for all types and sizes of pharmacy refrigerators. The most common of which are the C60 or C200 for alarm contacts, and C400 or C550 for medical fridges. For more information, please visit www.powercontrol.co.uk, email  info@powercontrol.co.uk or call the office on 01246 431431