Ultra-cold storage requirements for potential COVID-19 vaccine could be a hurdle, Duke doctor says


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A vaccine candidate advancing in the fight against COVID-19 can be found at the Pfizer plant in Michigan. A recent study shows it to be more than 90-percent effective.

At the rate it’s going, medical experts say it could be approved and used on people any month now.

“The vaccine is really fantastic. It’s a really promising step and there are caveats about it being preliminary and we need more information, but it’s a good of first step that we could’ve hoped for,” said Dr. Thomas Holland, infectious disease doctor at Duke University.

Holland said the vaccine needs to be kept at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s considered ultra-cold storage.

“That’s going to be really challenging from a distribution standpoint. That’s not something the average doctor’s office or pharmacy would be able to do,” Holland said.

There are also concerns smaller and rural hospitals won’t be able to afford the freezers. There’s one of those freezers at Duke University Hospital’s pharmacy department. A spokesperson said there are efforts underway to get more.

“Rural hospitals/clinics do not have proper storage equipment for this vaccine. The cost of such storage does not make this feasible for these rural providers. The CDC and HHS is aware of this concern/barrier, and they are exploring options to address this situation,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Health Association.

Vizient, a group purchaser for U.S. hospitals, said about a fifth of the hospitals they work with have bought the freezers.

“Hospitals will need to consider how quickly they will be able to have access to the vaccines, and at what quantities, before deciding to invest in these units. Vizient is assisting our member hospitals with these resource assessments to help ensure they are spending their scarce capital resources wisely,” said a spokesperson with Vizient, Inc.

The company said manufacturers are preparing for an increase in orders.

There are other vaccines for COVID-19 currently being developed. While some need ultra-cold freezers, others only require regular refrigeration.

“So hopefully we’re going to have not just one but multiple candidates that work for our patients,” Holland said.

Experts said the first round of vaccines will go to healthcare workers. Then, anyone who wanted one could likely get one by April.

A North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said ultra-cold storage is addressed in the N.C. COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.

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