Live varicella-containing vaccines (varicella, MMRV) must be stored in a freezer at a temperature between -50°C and -15°C (between -58°F and +5°F) until reconstitution and administration. These vaccines can deteriorate rapidly after they are removed from the freezer. A separate stand-alone freezer or a combination refrigerator-freezer purpose-built for vaccine storage (sometimes called “pharmaceutical grade”) should be used to store frozen vaccines that require storage temperatures between -50°C and -15°C (between -58°F and +5°F). A stand-alone storage unit that is frost-free or has an automatic defrost cycle is preferred. Frozen vaccines should not be stored in the freezer compartment of a household-type combination unit because household freezers in combination units cannot reliably maintain proper storage temperatures for frozen vaccines. This applies to both temporary and long-term storage of frozen vaccines. The diluents should be kept separately in the refrigerator or at room temperature. Live varicella-containing vaccines must be administered within 30 minutes of reconstitution.
Ask the Experts: Varicella (Chickenpox): Storage & Handling
Vaccine may lose potency rapidly if not stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions. However, it may still be permissible to use vaccine that has not been properly stored. Put the affected vaccine vials into the freezer after you have marked them so they are not confused with the unaffected vials, then call the manufacturer at 1-800-9-VARIVAX (1-800-982-7482) for further guidance about whether the vaccine is still usable. Unreconstituted varicella vaccine may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours before use. If refrigerated varicella vaccine is not used within 72 hours, it should be discarded.
If you have inadvertently left your vaccine at room temperature instead of in the freezer or have experienced a power failure, label the affected vaccine to keep it separated from unaffected vaccine and return it to recommended storage conditions in a freezer promptly, then contact the manufacturer for further guidance. Do not administer the vaccine until you have consulted with Merck.
The vaccine manufacturer does not recommend transporting varicella-containing vaccines (varicella, MMRV). If these vaccines must be transported (for example during an emergency), CDC recommends use of a portable vaccine freezer unit or qualified container and packout that maintains temperatures between -50°C and -15°C (- 8°F and +5°F). Do not use dry ice, even for temporary storage. Dry ice might expose the vaccines to temperatures colder than -50°C (-58°F), resulting in compromise of the vial stopper material.
Follow these steps for transporting frozen vaccines:
- Place a temperature monitoring device (preferably with a buffered probe) in the container as close as possible to the vaccines.
- Immediately upon arrival at the destination, unpack the vaccines and place them in a freezer at a temperature range between -50°C and -15°C (-58°F and +5°F). Any stand-alone freezer or freezer purpose built for vaccine storage that maintains these temperatures is acceptable.
- Record the time vaccines are removed from the storage unit and placed in the transport container, the temperature during transport, and the time at the end of transport when vaccines are placed in a stable storage unit.
If necessary, varicella-containing vaccines may be transported or stored at refrigerator temperature between 2°C and 8°C (between 36°F and 46°F) for up to 72 continuous hours prior to reconstitution. To do so, follow the steps above using a portable vaccine refrigerator unit or a qualified container and packout designed to maintain vaccine storage temperatures between 2°C and 8°C (between 36°F and 46°F).
Transport of varicella-containing vaccine at temperatures other than the recommended range between -50°C and -15°C (-58°F and +5°F) is considered a temperature excursion, so contact Merck at (800) 982-7482 for further guidance. Do not discard vaccines without contacting the manufacturer and/or your immunization program for guidance.
For additional guidance, see the CDC Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/admin/storage/toolkit/storage-handling-toolkit.pdf.
Yes. According to the manufacturer, unreconstituted varicella vaccine may be stored at refrigerator temperature (2°C to 8°C, 36°F to 46°F) for up to 72 continuous hours prior to reconstitution. Vaccine stored at 2°C to 8°C that is not used within 72 hours of removal from -15°C (+5°F) storage should be discarded. See www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/v/varivax/varivax_pi.pdf.