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WSAZ Exclusive | Inside look at the ultra-cold freezers to store the COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 8:21 PM EST
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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WSAZ) - On Thursday, Pfizer received the green light from a panel of experts who recommended that the Food and Drug Administration authorize the vaccine.

Pikeville Medical Center is one of 11 hospitals across Kentucky to receive the first shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, once given emergency authorization by the FDA.

The agency is likely to do so within days, giving health care workers and nursing home residents first priority to begin receiving the first shots early next week.

“We expect to receive the first shipment on the 15th,” said Donovan Blackburn, CEO of Pikeville Medical Center.

Inside Pikeville Medical Center is a piece of equipment that is critical in preventing the coronavirus from taking even more lives. The hospital recently purchased a second ultra-cold freezer to hold the soon-to-arrive COVID-19 vaccine and keep it cold enough to make sure the vaccine actually works. It’s part of why the hospital was chosen as one of the 11 to receive the first shipment of the vaccine across the state.

Ultra-cold freezers that can maintain temperatures of between minus 20C and minus 86C are...
Ultra-cold freezers that can maintain temperatures of between minus 20C and minus 86C are needed to store the BioNTech-Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.(WSAZ/ Kimberly Keagy)

There is an increasingly high demand for these ultra-low freezers because the vaccine made by Pfizer needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).

“We have two ultra-cold storage freezers that can store up to about 10,000 doses roughly,” Blackburn said.

The shelf life of the freezers is considered a game-changer, as it preserves the vaccine for up to six months versus normal refrigeration of only five days.

“If you ship 975 doses to a hospital that only has 500 employees, then you’ve got 400 to 500 doses in a hospital that doesn’t have ultra-cold storage. Then that vaccine goes to waste,” Blackburn said.

The vaccine requires two shots. Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass, an infectious disease specialist at Pikeville Medical Center, said the “vaccine is a much-needed tool to change the course of the pandemic.”

“It’s going to provide 95 percent protection after the second shot. This is phenomenal,” Al Akhrass said. “This will prevent them from coming to the hospital, from being very sick, and from having complications. That’s what we need.”

Pikeville Medical Center will receive 975 doses for their frontline health care workers.

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