Low-temperature coolers, needed to transport Pfizer vaccine, are next weapon in fight against COVID-19

To store and properly distribute the vaccine, the vice president of Sutter Health says they've spent $100,000 on 14 specialty freezers.

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ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Low-temperature coolers: Next weapon in the fight against COVID-19
The Pfizer vaccine could be a game-changer in the fight against coronavirus, but storing and distributing it, presents it's own unique set of challenges.

It's a possible game-changer in the fight against coronavirus.

The FDA has said if a vaccine is safe and at least 50% effective, it could be approved. On Monday, Pfizer said its vaccine may be more than 90% effective in preventing infection. Several Bay Area doctors said if the data holds, the Pfizer vaccine is a home run.

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"Help is on the way," said top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

"As a vaccine, it's more than 90% effective, which is extraordinary and will play a major role in what the outcome of this is going to be."

Dr. Susan Buchbinder, an epidemiologist with San Francisco's Department of Public Health, says it's possible some Bay Area residents could receive the Pfizer vaccine before the end of the year.

"So to hit a home run like this, to get this high level of efficacy, is not necessarily something you get in the first go around."

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As the development of a coronavirus vaccine moves closer to approval, medical experts are helping California to decide who gets priority for receiving the vaccine.

Dr. Buchbinder is running the Bay Area's AstraZeneca vaccine trial. She says Pfizer's good news bodes well for all the vaccine candidates being tested in the U.S. right now, because while they use different methodologies, they all have something in common.

"While some people were saying you may be putting all of your eggs in one basket, by all focusing on spike protein, it looks like we chose the right basket. All of these different vaccines may also be very promising and provide some protection."

There is something unusual about the Pfizer vaccine...

"The Pfizer vaccine requires negative 70-degree (Celsius) storage... which is 50 degrees (Celsius) below your typical home freezer," explained Ryan Stice, vice president of pharmacy for Sutter Health.

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Stice says the vaccine is, "shipped from Pfizer on dry ice. It's actually shipped in a very specialized packaging container that they've been developing for some time."

To store and properly distribute the vaccine, Stice says Sutter spent $100,000 on 14 specialty freezers, some of which are portable.

"These units are about the size of an igloo cooler, they can run on the car power, 12-volt power, and keep the vaccine at the correct temperature so we can move it around Northern California."

Pfizer's trial is not over - more time and data are needed, as well as peer review.

It's also not clear how long the vaccine, which requires two injections, would provide immunity. It's possible annual boosters, like the flu shot, would be needed.

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