We may be just weeks away from Pfizer’s approved COVID-19 vaccine. The pharmaceutical company is waiting for the FDA to review its emergency use authorization.
While Pfizer said their vaccine is 90 percent effective, it will be difficult to store, demanding temperatures near 100 degrees below zero. The NBC10 Investigators found out how Philadelphia plans on storing the vaccine once it’s available.
The CDC and the Philadelphia Health Department gave the Investigators an exclusive look at the city’s brand new ultra cold freezers, which cost about $10,000 a piece. The freezers come from B Medical Systems, one of the five major ultra cold medical freezer makers in the world.
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“Our factory in Luxembourg is at maximum capacity from a production standpoint right now,” Matt Tallman, the Head of Sales for B Medical Systems, told NBC10.
Once the 320,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are stored inside, the two freezers will be locked. Only four people will have the keys and anyone opening them will have to wear gloves. Security around them is tight and officials will not reveal where the freezers are located.
Keeping the location secret is part of an effort to keep the vaccine secure. The Industry Association for Global Cold Storage was unable to tell NBC10 how many ultra cold medical freezers our region or country have.
“So it’s really a worldwide phenomenon where the demand for ultra cold storage is so high right now and I think anyone who is going to be storing the COVID-19 vaccine is looking to get their hands on something like this,” Tallman said.
Delaware purchased an ultra cold freezer to store the vaccine as well.
“That was definitely a twist compared to other vaccines that we’ve dealt with,” Dr. Rick Hong, Delaware’s State Medical Director, told NBC10.
Dr. Hong said his staff won’t have a problem storing Pfizer’s vaccine but moving it, thawing it and injecting it in rural parts of Delaware will be a race.
“The redistribution plan is very challenging because once you tap into the vaccine you have six hours to use it all,” Dr. Hong said.
For security and speed, the U.S. military will ship the Pfizer vaccine in dry ice sealed containers where it can last for as long as ten days.
“We would be in deep trouble if we hadn’t been told we were getting a vaccine that required ultra cold storage,” Dr. Caroline Johnson of the Philadelphia Vaccine Advisory Committee said.
Ultra cold storage works in dense cities like Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. Dr. Johnson plans to stock extra vials in Philly so that the health department can resupply hospitals or health clinics without having to wait to reorder them from the federal government.
“It’s geography,” Dr. Johnson said. “We’re a city that can drive the vaccine where it needs to go.”
Officials plan to use the freezers like an airline uses an airport hub. By the time the vaccine arrives, the air inside the freezers will be 100 degrees colder than it is outside. They’re currently plugged in, cooling down and waiting for the FDA’s approval. The FDA is scheduled to meet in two weeks to review Pfizer’s vaccine.