Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is among the hospitals around the U.S. getting ready to receive COVID-19 vaccines, once they’re approved and available for use.
Cedars-Sinai was selected as one of the distribution sites because of its ability to store vaccines at ultra-cold temperatures. The freezers can keep medicines as cold as -80 degrees Celsius.
“As a major research center, we need that ultra-cold storage to support some of our research projects. So we already had them on site and available,” said Dr. Jeff Smith, the hospital’s chief operating officer.
Ultra-cold freezers are in demand to handle Pfizer’s new COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is approved by the FDA for emergency use.
Pfizer submitted the vaccine last Friday for approval and that process could take up to three weeks. If approved, vaccines will start rolling out immediately, but Pfizer’s vaccine needs special care. The vaccine must remain at minus 70 degrees Celsius.
Each state is identifying hospitals, research labs and other facilities which have these extremely cold freezers to help in the distribution process. The freezers at Cedar Sinai will be able to store up to 200,000 vaccine doses.
“So the health department will allocate a specific amount of vaccine, which will be shipped directly to us. We will store that, take it out of the storage containers, which contain dry ice, and put them directly into our freezers, which are in a secure location and also are monitored remotely for to make sure that they stay at the proper temperature, monitored and alarmed,” said Smith.
Frontline healthcare workers will be among the first to be offered a vaccine, but it’s not yet known how public health authorities will prioritize other groups.
There are currently three major drug manufacturers moving forward with vaccines.
Pfizer is the only COVID-19 vaccine that requires being kept in a deep freeze. Moderna, which is reportedly going to ask the FDA for emergency use authorization approval in mid-December, needs to be kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius—that is more like a regular freezer. And AstraZeneca’s vaccine can be kept at room temperature.