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Cleveland Clinic offers updated look inside 'freezer farm' storage procedures for COVID-19 vaccine

'Once we open up the freezer, we only have three minutes in which to pull the product out, and then we have to close the freezer doors.'

CLEVELAND — Once the COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Northeast Ohio following emergency usage approval from the FDA, the Cleveland Clinic will be among the first locations to receive a shipment of the shots.

The Clinic, which has been selected as one of 10 pre-positioned vaccine sites in Ohio, shared an update Friday on what the vaccination storage process entails – and it’s a very sensitive process. 

So what's involved? 

Here’s a Q&A session that details the vaccination freezer farm procedures with Jeffrey Rosner, RPh, Executive Director of Pharmacy Sourcing and Supply Chain Analytics in Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Supply Chain Management.

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Describe the freezers and why they are needed?

“Both the Pfizer product and Moderna product require special storage. Pfizer requires ultra-cold temperatures, -80 degrees Celsius, which is around -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Whereas the Moderna product requires standard freezer conditions.”

What are some of the logistical challenges?

“This product is highly unstable, specifically the Pfizer product. Once that product comes in, we have to get it into the ultra-cold freezers as soon as possible – and that’s actually the easy part because what happens later is we have to go ahead and pull the product to send it to our inoculation locations. Once we open up the freezer, we only have three minutes in which to pull the product out, and then we have to close the freezer doors. The freezer doors must remain shut for two hours. So we need to pull that product quickly, get it into refrigerators and then, ultimately, get it off to our inoculation locations.”

How many freezers do you have?

“We have 16 freezers, some that are set at ultra-cold temperatures, -80 degrees for Pfizer and some that are set at -20 degrees for Moderna. Additionally, we have some additional freezers for redundancy in case of any system failure.”

What happens once you receive the shipment?

“Once the product comes in from Pfizer, we will immediately open it up and check a thermal scanning device that Pfizer has embedded in the shipping case to make sure that the product integrity has been maintained upon receipt. We will immediately open the shipping container, verify the counts to make sure that we received the appropriate amount of product and immediately put that into the appropriate freezer.”

When do you anticipate receiving the shipment?

“We are one of 10 pre-positioned sites in Ohio, so we anticipate receiving the product as soon as the FDA authorizes the emergency use.”

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccine will be on its way to Cleveland Sunday

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Once vaccinations are permitted to begin, shots will initially be limited to high-risk populations.

“As the FDA-approved vaccines may not be widely available for the public until several months into 2021, we must all continue taking important precautions to help slow the spread of the virus,” officials with the Cleveland Clinic noted in a press release. “This includes wearing a mask, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, social distancing and limiting gatherings.”

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