coronavirus vaccine

First Look at the ‘Ultra-Low' Freezer for COVID-19 Vaccine in CT

NBC Universal, Inc.

There is a lot that can go wrong between the manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine and when that vaccine actually gets into someone’s arm. Much of the challenge has to do with keeping those vaccines in crucial cold storage all along the way. Now, there is a clearer picture of what’s being done to keep this so-called “cold chain” intact in Connecticut.

Inside Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford is a piece of equipment that is critical in preventing the coronavirus from taking even more lives. Trinity Health of New England, the parent company of Saint Francis Hospital, recently purchased a new ultra-low freezer to hold the soon-to-arrive COVID-19 vaccine - and keep it cold enough - to make sure the vaccine actually works.

“A lot of things moving fast; a lot of moving parts,” said Dr. Reginald Eadie, president and CEO of Trinity Health of New England about the vaccine rollout. Eadie is also co-chair of Connecticut’s Vaccine Advisory Group, which advises Gov. Ned Lamont on preparations for the vaccine, including a statewide distribution strategy.

There is 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). Meanwhile, the Moderna vaccine also needs to be kept frozen, but at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).

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“Once we learned that Pfizer’s vaccine required such low temperatures, we then ordered ours immediately and were lucky enough to get it before the supply chain challenges showed up,” said Eadie.

Connecticut needs adequate cold storage for whatever vaccines come this way. Eadie said the purchase of his hospital’s new freezer certainly helps with capacity. Even though it is not a massive piece of equipment, it can hold a substantial amount of vials of vaccine.

“It has the capacity to holding 600,000 vials. So, technically, that’s enough for the entire state of Connecticut,” Eadie said.

Each of those 600,000 vials, Eadie said, holds five doses of vaccine. All of that vaccine needs to stay frozen until it is time to be administered.

“There are very small windows of time for each of these steps, and again, from a safety perspective, we have to comply 100%,” said Eadie. “Otherwise, it would have to be discarded.”

Dr. Eadie added that there is still a lot of planning being done to make sure Connecticut’s COVID-19 "cold chain" does not break.

“It’s a matter of life or death,” Eadie said. “That’s how important it is.”

Along with Trinity Health of New England, there are other "ultra-low" freezers being made available across the state. Hartford HealthCare is planning to store up to 250,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and Yale New Haven Health said it expects to store about 50,000 doses.

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