Pittsburgh hospitals ready to go with ultra-cold freezers for COVID-19 vaccines

PITTSBURGH — When COVID-19 vaccines become available, Pittsburgh hospitals are ready with the ultra-cold freezers to store them.

Allegheny Health Network purchased more than 20 of the freezers, which cost about $15,000 each. One kind gets cold enough to store Pfizer’s vaccine. Others don’t get as cold and will be used for Moderna’s vaccine.

“We could store up to 100,000-120,000 for all of the freezers but, again, our plan is not to store them. Our plan is to administer them,” Laura Mark, AHN’s Vice President of Pharmacy, said.

There’s going to be one freezer at each AHN hospital’s in-patient pharmacy, officials said.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center already has some ultra-cold freezers, which had been used more for research purposes. The hospital system is supposed to get a couple more in.

UPMC Senior Director for Emergency Preparedness Knox Walk said he doesn’t think storage is going to be an issue.

“The biggest concern is how we get the doses out to the appropriate people in the early days of the vaccine, because it’s a limited vaccine at this point,” Walk said. “It’s coming. For everyone it’s coming. Just not here yet.”

If and when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives authorization for emergency use, Pfizer’s vaccine gets packed into a box with dry ice, allowing it to last for 3-5 days. About 1,000 doses will be in each box, which is about the size of a pizza box.

The FDA could clear the vaccine for emergency use as soon as Dec. 10.