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From the outside, they look like futuristic household refrigerators but these ultra-cold machines, installed at hospitals across New York, will be the key to safely storing millions of COVID-19 vaccines.
Days before the first doses are expected in the Empire State, Northwell Health unveiled the special ice boxes equipped to handle Pfizer’s vaccine on Friday and said they’ve been installed at all 19 of their hospitals.
The special Cryostar freezers can get as frosty as negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature required to keep Pfizer’s vaccine effective.
The health system has purchased enough freezers to hold more than 2 million doses across the 19 hospitals, including Manhattan’s Lenox Hill Hospital, LIJ Forest Hills Hospital and Staten Island University Hospital, a spokesperson said.
The white and blue freezers, which require cryogenic gloves to handle, will offer a shelf life of six months and some are big enough to store a whopping 250,000 doses, the rep said.
The vaccine can be stored at 35.6 to 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit for up to five days before use after being taking from the ultra-cold freezer. But they can only spend about 5 to 6 hours at room temperature to remain effective, Northwell Health said.
In contrast, Moderna’s vaccine can be stored for up to 30 days in regular refrigerators at temperatures hovering between 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning most pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices would be able to keep it on hand without any special equipment. Doses from Moderna are expected by Christmas, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.
To prepare for distribution, Northwell has four times the typical amount of supplemental vaccine supplies, including alcohol swabs, gloves and syringes — a portion of which was provided by the federal government, the spokesperson said.
The only thing still on the list is the doses, which could come as early as Sunday or Monday, Cuomo said earlier this week.
Northwell said they’ve developed a plan for vaccinating their 74,000 employees using a “priority matrix” measuring five risk factors that include age, location and level of patient interaction.