Idaho is all set to receive its first allotment of the coronavirus vaccine, but at this point, health officials don't have anywhere to store it.
The state's seven health districts were supposed to receive special ultra-deep freezers this week, but shipments are delayed by about a month.
State health officials tell KTVB that they have found a temporary workaround for keeping the vaccine cold enough until the freezers arrive.
Idaho is expected to receive an initial 13,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, if and when the FDA approves it.
According to Sarah Leeds, Idaho's immunizations program manager, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus-70 degrees and it has a very limited shelf-life once it's removed from deep-freeze.
When taken out of the freezer and placed into a refrigerator, it must be used within five days. Once fully thawed out, it must be used within hours.
Even though many health districts in Idaho will be without ultra-deep freezers, Leeds said Pfizer's shipping method buys them some time.
“We have instructions from Pfizer, from the manufacturer, on how to use those thermal shipping containers as basically a temporary freezer,” she said.
The thermal containers can store the vaccine for up to 30 days. After that, it needs to go into a deep freezer, or it will no longer be effective. Leeds is confident Idaho's supply of the vaccine will not go to waste.
“We anticipate that vaccine will be gone much more quickly than when we will be getting the freezers, so we know we are getting next week’s shipment and we anticipate another shipment the following week,” Leeds said.
Once the FDA issues an emergency use authorization, which could happen in the next few days, providers will still need recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) before they can administer the vaccine.
Recommendations include best practices for how to administer the vaccine, how to store and handle it, and who it should - and should not - be administered to.
“We still have provider education that needs to happen," Leeds said. "We started that last week and we know that we need to do more and so we have five opportunities a week for providers to log onto some webinars that we are hosting about storage and handling, administration and data collection."
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare expects to hear from the CDC on Friday about when the state will receive the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.
How the vaccine will be rolled out in Idaho
The committee has adopted a plan to distribute the vaccine first to healthcare providers and people living and working in long-term care facilities.
The CDC is partnering with Walgreens and CVS pharmacies to prioritize to get long-term care facility staff and residents vaccinated.
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