A vaccine could arrive in Idaho as soon as next week, depending on the FDA's decision to use the Pfizer vaccine's emergency use authorization. According to the FDA, the decision should be coming soon, meaning so will the vaccine.
When it does arrive in Idaho - where will it be kept? The answer is ultra-cold freezers.
The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at a temperature close to dry ice. Similarly, Moderna's vaccine also must be kept in a low degree freezer to keep them viable.
"A fairly strict, what we call cold chain requirements, to make sure that we keep that vaccine stable. That manufacturer would be directly shipping that vaccine in special micro-fridge temperature containers to those vaccine administrators," Regence Executive Medical Director, Dr. Amy Khan, said.
St. Luke's is one of the vaccine administrators for Idaho that received ultra-cold low-temperature freezers. The health system says it's ready for the first shipment of doses to arrive.
"We made a request as we did our assessment of how would we be able to make sure we can vaccinate our employees, our patients that would qualify. We made a recommendation to buy three of the ultra-low freezers," St. Luke's Senior Director of Pharmacy, Scott Milner, said.
The freezers St. Luke's has are expected to hold 20,000 doses. They also come with back-up alarms in case the freezers cannot maintain the correct temperature the vaccines need.
"Both of them have limited shelf life once they are thawed, so it's very important that the material is carefully managed and kept at those cold storage requirements until it is then being thawed for administration to the intended recipients," Khan said.
When St. Luke's staff receive that vaccine, they must use special leather gloves to handle the doses. The freezers were purchased by money from St. Luke's COVID-19 Relief Fund.
"When it moves from our freezing temperature to our refrigerated temperature, there's a changing of expiration dates and so just experimenting with some of the thoughts we had that pertain and be true to those expectations of requirements and make sure logistically that our front line staff will be able to make that flow work for what they'll do with the clinics," Milner said.
The Moderna vaccine, which also submitted a request to be considered for emergency use authorization, is anticipated to arrive in Idaho within a few weeks. The state and local health districts determine how many doses are given to each organization.