NEW ORLEANS — On December 10, the Food and Drug Administration could approve the first Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the United States. Pfizer is manufacturing the vaccine which must be stored at 70 degrees below zero.
For hospitals in New Orleans, storing a vaccine at that temperature requires the purchase of new equipment. Both University Medical Center and Ochsner now have ultra low temperature freezers on hand now which each plans to stage at hospitals throughout the region.
“So this will allow us to have some central storage locations to keep the vaccine under very tight conditions,” Dr. Jeffrey Elder told WGNO News. Elder is an emergency room physician at UMC.
The ultra low temperature freezers can cost $10,000 or more, depending upon their size. They can also store tens of thousands of doses of the vaccine. Once a vial of vaccine is removed from the freezer, it can be kept in a refrigerator for five days.
“Because we got extra freezers and extra refrigerators for every hospital, some more than one refrigerator, in case we had to move them around,” Ochsner Health Vice President of Pharmacy Debbie Simonson told WGNO.
Once a vaccine wins federal approval, it could arrive in New Orleans within 24 hours.
“If it’s 4:00am, we’ll all be down there ready to pack and move,” Simonson said of Ochsner’s plans to mobilize.
Initially, the vaccine will be provided to medical workers and some senior citizens. It could be late spring or even summer before it’s available to the general public.
“If we don’t, we would have to wait for production to catch up with demand which could mean millions upon millions of doses that we’d have to wait for,” Elder said.