How Do You Keep Vaccines Cool? (Hint: Look to Space)


How Do You Keep Vaccines Cool? (Hint: Look to Space)

July 12, 2016

The Arktek™, developed by a team at Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, can store a month’s supply of vaccines for a village of 6,000 people in 100 degree plus heat, without electricity. What’s the secret? Vacuum thermal insulation technology – the same technology that has been used to protect spacecraft from temperature extremes while in space and upon re-entry. 

An Arktek device is transported by camel in Ethiopia (2013). Credit: Shahim Yassin, Afar Pastoralists Development Association

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a paper detailing their Ebola vaccine trials in Sierra Leone, including the important role that the Arktek DF has played in distributing the vaccine to rural regions lacking power.

In the midst of the worst known Ebola outbreak in 2014, the World Health Organization and the CDC requested cold chain vaccine storage support for an Ebola vaccine trial taking place in Sierra Leone and Guinea. These remote, low-resource settings presented numerous challenges that were exacerbated by the need to store the Ebola vaccine at much lower temperatures (-76 to -112 degrees Fahrenheit / -60 to -80 degrees Celsius).

Of course, as inventors, we rarely decline an opportunity to tinker with our own inventions, especially if it helps us better respond to evolving challenges on the ground.

We modified our Arktek PSD device to reliably achieve the required temperatures by using a unique phase change material that freezes at the target range. Arktek DF is capable of storing the vaccines for 6.5 days in daytime temperatures of 109 degrees (43 degrees Celsius) and nighttime temperatures of 77 degrees (25 degrees Celsius), and allows for vaccine access eight times a day. Not only did Arktek DF demonstrate reliable thermal performance in the field, it exceeded all expectations.

Keeping vaccines at the right temperature along this temperature-controlled supply chain – known as the “cold chain” – is a big challenge in the developing world. About one fifth of the vaccines in poor countries spoil before they can be used due to limited access to power and refrigeration. As a result, many children – 1 in 5 worldwide – are not protected against diseases like measles and tetanus. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.5 million children lose their lives from vaccine-preventable diseases every year.

When it comes to maintaining the vaccine cold chain, different scenarios require different technological approaches; Arktek is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. More information on Arktek and other cold chain equipment can be found in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation’s (GAVIs) new Cold Chain Equipment Technology Guide, or by contacting us at

For the full text of this post, visit the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory’s blog.  

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