Effect of thermal ballast loading on temperature stability of domestic refrigerators used for vaccine storage


Vaccine temperature control failures represent a significant public and private healthcare cost. Vaccines damaged by excessive heat or freezing lose their effectiveness, putting public health at risk. Some vaccine administration programs recommend placing water bottles inside domestic refrigerators used for vaccine storage as a thermal ballast, to mitigate temperature excursion risks. However, the effect of variable thermal ballast loading on refrigerator performance has not been thoroughly quantified or documented, and generalized programmatic recommendations are subject to end-user interpretation. Here we show that a thermal ballast load comprising ten to fifteen percent of the total refrigerator storage volume provides a measurable effect on domestic refrigerator temperature stability during power outage events, maintaining vaccine temperatures between 2 °C and 8 °C for 4 to 6 hours without power. Thermal ballast usage does not reliably reduce the frequency or severity of temperature excursions caused by repeated door opening, accidental “door left open” events, or refrigerator defrost cycle activation. Use of a moderate thermal ballast load is a practical strategy for mitigating temperature excursions risks in areas with frequent or protracted power outages, but the practice has limited benefit in other adverse scenarios. Empowering providers to make informed decisions about the use of thermal ballast materials supports better, safer vaccine management.