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States receiving 'little federal assistance' as they scramble to solve glaring problem with COVID vaccine

States receiving 'little federal assistance' as they scramble to solve glaring problem with COVID vaccine
Image via Shutterstock.

President Donald Trump is hoping that a vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus will be available before Election Day; many health experts, however, have stressed that a COVID-19 vaccine needs to be thoroughly tested and should not be rushed. Reporter Emily Kopp, in an article published by Roll Call on October 13, examines one of the many challenges of developing COVID-19 vaccines: having enough places that are cold enough to store them.

"States are getting little federal assistance as they scramble to find medical-grade deep freezers or dry ice for one of the COVID-19 vaccines furthest along in development, which requires storage at much colder temperatures than found on an average winter day on the South Pole," Kopp explains. "The Trump Administration has earmarked billions in taxpayer dollars to vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer, but these vaccines require ultra-low temperatures — particularly Pfizer's, housed at an average of 103 degrees below zero Fahrenheit."

On Twitter, Kopp noted, "Pfizer's vaccine — the only one that could be available before the election — is EXTREMELY delicate. It has to be stored at -103 degrees(!) And Operation Warp Speed is doing nothing about it."

It is possible to, in the United States, store vaccines in temperatures that would be cold even for Antarctica's winter months — June, July and August — but Kopp notes, "The number of medical grade ultra-cold deep freezers in the United States is unknown. And it's up to states to locate them."

Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently explained, "Not all of those (vaccination sites) will have the ultra-cold deep freezers to be able to store vaccines, particularly the Pfizer product. So, that is an important part of the state planning effort to determine where that capacity is."

Similarly, Soumi Saha, senior director of advocacy at Premier, Inc. — a company that helps hospitals with medical supplies — told Roll Call, "Those freezers are like unicorns. They are few and far between in health care settings today." And Azra Behlim, who leads a coronavirus task force at the company Vizient, Inc., told Roll Call, "When you're going to buy a medical grade freezer, it's not like walking into Best Buy to buy a refrigerator and freezer for your home."

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