The cold chain describes the system of transporting and storing vaccines within the temperature range of +2°C to +8°C from the place of manufacture to the point of administration. The optimal storage temperature for vaccines is +5°C.

Failure to store and handle vaccines properly can result in reduced vaccine potency and inadequate immune responses in clients as well as poor protection against disease. To ensure that clients receive effective and potent vaccines, immunisation providers should follow the principles of safe vaccine storage management and adhere to, the National Vaccine Storage Guidelines: Strive for 5.

Purpose-built vaccine refrigerators are preferred for storing vaccines because they are designed and constructed specifically for vaccine storage at temperatures between +2°C and +8°C. Domestic refrigerators are not suitable for vaccine storage.

Community pharmacy–acquired vaccines

The cold chain needs to be maintained, not only for vaccines provided as part of the National Immunisation Program but also for vaccines that a person buys from a pharmacist with a prescription. Doctors who provide a prescription for a vaccine should advise clients that it is important to only purchase the vaccine from the pharmacy immediately before attending the practice or clinic appointment for vaccine administration. The pharmacist also has a responsibility to advise on the importance of maintaining the cold chain. On arrival to the clinic, the client should notify reception that they have a vaccine to put in the vaccine refrigerator.

If an immunisation service provider has any concern that a vaccine provided by a client may have been stored outside the recommended +2°C to +8°C range, the vaccine should not be administered.

Cold chain breaches

A cold chain breach is exposure of vaccines to temperatures outside the recommended range of 2°C to 8°C. This excludes fluctuations up to 12°C lasting no longer than 15 minutes which may be noted during restocking, cleaning the fridge or stock taking.

Cold chain breaches must be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as soon as possible using the Cold Chain Breach Report form. The DHHS will advise you on the next steps to take. It is important to report any cold chain breaches so that client(s) can be revaccinated or unused vaccines can be recalled, if required. For privately purchased vaccines, contact the manufacturer/supplier.

Ultra-cold chain

Ultra-low temperatures are required for the storage of some vaccines. In Australia, Comirnaty™ (the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine), requires ultra-cold chain storage in purpose-built freezers at temperatures between -90°C and -60°C. Thermal shippers with cartons of vaccine submerged in dry ice are required to transport vaccines that require ultra-cold storage. Storage conditions and ultra-cold chain handling equipment must be used as per manufacturer’s advice. It is a requirement that providers of Comirnaty™ must have completed appropriate training in the storage and handling of the vaccine in accordance with Commonwealth Government requirements.

For further information, refer to the Victorian COVID-19 vaccination guidelines.


Author: Georgie Lewis (SAEFVIC Clinical Manager, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)

Reviewed by: Francesca Machingaifa (MVEC Education Nurse Coordinator)

Date: March 2021

Materials in this section are updated as new information and vaccines become available. The Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre (MVEC) staff regularly reviews materials for accuracy.

You should not consider the information in this site to be specific, professional medical advice for your personal health or for your family’s personal health. For medical concerns, including decisions about vaccinations, medications and other treatments, you should always consult a healthcare professional.