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U of R lends ultra-low temperature freezer to improve vaccine logistical challenges

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: January 7, 2021 1:00 p.m.

One of the three ultra-low temperature freezers on the main U of R campus was transported to North Battleford to assist in the safe receiving and storage of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
One of the three ultra-low temperature freezers on the main U of R campus was transported to North Battleford to assist in the safe receiving and storage of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: U of R Health, Safety, and Wellness

With the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine now being administered throughout Saskatchewan, the University of Regina is playing an important role in helping the vaccine reach the province’s priority groups.

On January 4, staff members from the U of R packed and shipped a highly-specialized ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezer to the Battlefords Union Hospital in North Battleford. Working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and the Ministry of Health, the move was made to create an additional, strategic location to safely receive and store the vaccine.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is unique, requiring storage at blistering temperatures below -70 degrees Celsius – far colder than most vaccines. Shipped in thermal boxes and packed in dry ice, the vaccine has a limited shelf life if not kept at these frigid temperatures. Only a small number of freezers across the province are capable of reaching this level of cold, and Darren Cherwaty, Director, Health, Safety and Wellness, worked with U of R faculty, staff, and senior leaders to consider potential options available on campus. 

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The Pfizer-BioNTech requires storage at blistering
temperatures. Photo: UAC

“We looked at what ULT freezers we could make available and started having conversations with the SHA and the Ministry of Health,” says Cherwaty. “Those who own these specialized freezers at the U of R have been most generous in making them available.”

The U of R currently has three ULT freezers which are primarily used by the faculties of Science and Kinesiology for the storage of dry ice and preservation of research specimens. At the request of the SHA, one of these ULT freezers was shipped to North Battleford to create an additional hub to safely store the vaccines that will be distributed across the province’s North East zone. At full capacity, the freezer is capable of storing up to 65,000 doses of the vaccine.

“There is no book, no manual, and no established process, for how to handle a vaccination strategy this complex during a pandemic,” says Cherwaty. “The SHA and Ministry of Health are working through the challenges and logistics of safely vaccinating our population and are appreciative of our offerings.”

As the next stages of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 vaccination plan roll out, the SHA has ordered several more ULT freezers, but the dramatic increase in worldwide demand for these units has made delivery dates unclear. By offering use of the ULT freezers, the U of R is helping to alleviate some of the logistical challenges posed when vaccination of the general population begins. Cherwaty has also made arrangements for U of R staff, who are familiar with ULT freezers, to offer their expertise as the province continues to receive more vaccine doses.

“By offering access to our equipment specialists, we can ensure that any hospital or clinic around the province that receives a ULT freezer can effectively and safely operate them,” says Cherwaty. “We are happy to be a community partner with the SHA and the Ministry of Health as we collectively work towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”


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