When a COVID-19 vaccine is finally ready for distribution, getting it to millions of people will be challenging enough. But what may be an even bigger challenge: keeping it super-cold.
News this week from Pfizer that early data shows its COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective is promising and providing hope.
The much-awaited inoculation has to be refrigerated at temperatures 70 degrees below zero - give or take 10 degrees.
Dr. Davalyn Tidwell, pharmacy director at Riverside University Health System, explains this is rare.
Dry ice and freezer farms: Challenges of storing a COVID-19 vaccine
"This is one of the first and only medications that our pharmacy has needed to store under ultra-cold conditions," she said.
That calls for an ultra-cold freezer, which most pharmacies and medical providers do not have, including Dr. Tidwell. She put in her order three weeks ago and expects the freezer to be delivered by the end of the month.
"We're already hearing from suppliers that there are some shipping delays. My guess is that everyone is trying to purchase ultra-cold," she said.
Another challenge is getting the product to and from locations while securing the so-called cold chain.
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"They're going to be shipped in special totes under dry ice so these are going to be sealed containers that can handle short transportation under dry ice they need to make their way back rapidly into your ultra-cold storage and then be prepared for use," she said.
Dr. Richard Seidman, the chief medical officer of the L.A. Care Health Plan, says the immunization will be covered for its 2.2 million members. Priority will go to those at highest risk.
"Our goal will be to help support getting the vaccine to health care workers, to essential workers, people 65 and above, and people with chronic conditions and high risk of severe infection of dying from COVID-19," Seidman said.
Thursday, the federal government reached an agreement with pharmacies across the U.S. including Rite Aid, Albertson's and Costco, to distribute free coronavirus vaccine doses once it is approved.
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