SALT LAKE CITY – The FDA is announcing major changes to how the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer can be stored, and state health officials say it could make the task of distributing the vaccine a lot easier.
One of the trickier parts of handling the Pfizer vaccine was the storage. It had to be kept at -80 degrees Celsius, or -112 degrees Fahrenheit, until it was ready to be thawed and administered. Officials with the Utah Department of Health say four local health departments don’t have that kind of cold storage unit, and neither do most local pharmacies that are partnering with the state.
Spokesman Tom Hudachko says, “There are only so many providers throughout the state who have the capability to provide that ultra-cold storage.”
Over the past few weeks, Pfizer has been submitting new reports to the FDA showing the vaccines can remain stable for two weeks in “standard freezer temperature,” according to the agency’s latest report. Hudachko says this change will allow many more hospitals, local health departments and pharmacies to have the medication on hand.
He says, “It can be shipped at -80 degrees Celsius, then it can be stored for up to two weeks at -20 degrees Celsius. Those types of freezers are much more common in healthcare settings throughout the states.”
This change will make it easier for the state to vaccinate people under the age of 18 with certain health problems like diabetes, uncontrolled obesity or sickle cell. The Pfizer vaccine is their only option, and Hudachko says teens living in places far from ultra-cold storage facilities would have had a difficult time booking an appointment. Now, UDOH has to rearrange where these doses can go so they can reach the teens who qualify.
“It’s certainly difficult to determine not only how many of those kids there are, but where they are,” Hudachko says. “We will have to work with our partners, both the local healthcare systems and the health departments to get a better feel for what that process looks like.”
He says that task will be much easier now that the storage restrictions have been eased.
“It’s certainly extra flexibility that we have moving forward,” according to Hudachko.
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