Nurse Practitioner Gabriela Huyke prepares for medical examination of a volunteer for the COVID-19 vaccine study at the Research Centers of America (RCA) in Hollywood, Florida, on August 13, 2020. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty

States and hospital systems across the US have started panic-buying ultra low temperature freezers capable of storing Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. 

The vaccine requires being kept at -94 degree Fahrenheit, well below the average 36 degrees required for most vaccines, and far colder than a regular freezer temperature of 0 degrees.  

The wave of purchases comes even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructed hospitals in August not to purchase the freezers, instead insisting it was working on its own storage solutions for the vaccine rollout.

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As Pfizer awaits possible emergency approval of its coronavirus vaccine, hospitals and states around the country are clamoring to buy ultra-cold freezers capable of storing the shots.

The vaccine — which Pfizer announced last week is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in late stage human trials — must be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain its efficacy. The temperature is well below the average 36 degrees required for most vaccines, and far colder than a regular freezer temperature of 0 degrees.  

While Pfizer has proposed shipping the vaccines to healthcare providers using special dry ice briefcases, most hospitals aren’t equipped with cold enough freezers to store the two-shot courses. As a result, states have started panic-buying hyper-cold freezers to prepare for mass deployment of the shots. 

Makers of these specialty freezers are anticipating months-long backorders and delays for the products — which retail at anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 — due to unprecedented demand, Reuters reported. 

The wave of purchases comes even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructed hospitals in August not to purchase the freezers, instead insisting it was working on its own storage solutions for the vaccine rollout.

On Thursday, a CDC spokeswoman said the first batch of the vaccines will be available in limited quantities and administered quickly, which could lessen the necessity of hyper-cold freezers. Still, that hasn’t stopped states from rushing to buy freezers, marking what Reuters said is “widespread wariness of the advice from the CDC,” as the organization continues to face increased scrutiny

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“I would estimate that a third of states are purchasing ultra cold storage equipment,” Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, a nonprofit handling the vaccines, told Reuters. 

The lack of proper storage has also prompted some lawmakers, including Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, to request federal funding to help cover the cost of the specialty freezers. At least six states thus far have written official statements to the CDC expressing lack of infrastructure to store vaccines, according to Reuters. 

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