Stirling Ultracold’s ultra-low temperature (ULT) Freezers are helping international communities to plan COVID-19 vaccine distribution by sharing learned experiences with the likes of Walgreens, Puerto Rico National Guard, University of North Carolina, and others.
Stirling Ultracold, an innovative developer and manufacturer of ULT freezers for life science and biopharma research, has been helping communities and businesses to strategise and prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution with ULT storage.
Stirling Ultracold’s range of SU780XLE Upright, SU105UE Undercounter, and ULT25NEU Portable ULT freezers have played a central role in getting vaccines to patients in the last mile, and many businesses and communities have relied on their stability, temperature flexibility, and effectiveness to safely store, administer, and build for future COVID-19 vaccine campaigns.
When Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna both announced FDA approval for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates in December of 2020, the race was on to create vaccine distribution plans that would be quick, effective, and most importantly, would minimise vaccine waste.
Given both vaccines’ specific temperature requirements for long-term storage, Pfizer-BioNTech between 80ºC to 60ºC (112ºF to 76ºF) and Moderna between -25°C and -15°C (-13°F and 5°F), risk for mass vaccine loss skyrocketed and last mile logistics quickly became a tricky pursuit as vaccines began shipping out. Despite Pfizer’s announcement around lessened ultracold storage requirements for short-term needs, its vaccine can only be stored at this lessened temperature for 14 days maximum.
Recent downstream bottlenecks like regular website crashes, missed appointments, and weather issues have caused continued vaccine spoilage, despite the extended grace period. Not only this, many vaccine sites are still unable to pick and choose which vaccine type they will receive for patient distribution, making cold storage infrastructure a continued necessity for safe distribution, and minimum vaccine spoilage. Stirling Ultracold remains the only company that offers commercially available freezers capable of storing any COVID-19 vaccine candidate requiring ULT storage during the last mile delivery, making it a central player in vaccine distribution for many.
Below are several case studies describing Stirling Ultracold’s role in helping businesses and communities with COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Walgreens tackles vaccine delivery at over 9,000 distributed locations
Walgreens has over 9,000 retail pharmacy stores within America. Naturally, this led to many questions, including, which pharmacies would receive and administer the vaccine? How could they ensure vaccines were getting to the most remote communities? How would Walgreens store these ultracold vaccines in its pharmacies to administer two doses to patients? And how will Walgreens best manage the ebb and flow of the vaccine manufacturers supply without having to turn down a single shipment?
Walgreens evaluated various methods for pharmacists to store and administer vaccines that were efficient, effective, and manageable with expected scheduling and vaccine supply challenges. Investing in freezers gave their pharmacies flexibility for long-term storage if patients missed appointments and would allow them to transport the vaccines within the portable freezer, if necessary, to manage store demand. The Walgreens in-house engineering team liked the Stirling engine design and knew compressor-based systems must work very hard to achieve these temperatures.
To strategically distribute vaccines to its 9,000 locations, Walgreens developed a hub-model storage plan that designated many of the bigger or more remote stores as hub locations to receive vaccine shipments. To equip the hub centres, Walgreens purchased 300 portable freezers and 105 undercounter freezers from Stirling Ultracold. The hub locations, outfitted with a ULT freezer, manage the ebb and flow of supply, and can also act as administration centres themselves.
With this plan in place, Stirling Ultracold freezers are now in Walgreens stores across the country, in 49 states. The company is confident its long-term plan has prepared it for future outbreaks and has enabled it to scale even faster, bringing hope to millions of Americans ready to put this pandemic in the past.
See here for the full Walgreens case study: Walgreens COVID-19 vaccine case study.
Puerto Rico National Guard Sets out to vaccinate 85% of Puerto Rican population by 31 August, 2021
With the proactive leadership of Major General José Reyes, Adjutant General to the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, working in collaboration with the territory’s regional healthcare systems, a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan was developed for the island well before doses were even available for distribution. This blueprint smartly identified the biggest obstacles to safe vaccine distribution, which occur in “last mile” – or the last hand off in the supply chain before doses are administered to the patient.
While the general and his team considered dry ice and liquid nitrogen storage options for distributing COVID-19 vaccines on the island, they quickly determined that the limited long-term control of temperatures, along with the need for specialty PPE and training for safe handling, made these passive cold chain methods impractical, costly, and ineffective for operational success. Stirling Ultracold’s flexible ULT range combined with his team’s assessment of the freezers’ reliability, universal standard voltage plugins, small infrastructure footprint, reduced power consumption, and associated backup requirements and General Reyes ultimately selected Stirling Ultracold as the exclusive provider of ULT storage solutions for Puerto Rico’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
General Reyes has set a goal to vaccinate at least 85% of the Puerto Rican population by 31 August, 2021, which he believes is achievable if the Biden administration’s plan stays on track to administer 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his presidency.
With Stirling Ultracold’s vaccine-ready ULT storage infrastructure now in place, General Reyes plans to extend the use of this hub and spoke cold chain beyond this pandemic for future vaccination efforts on the island and feels confident that he has chosen a freezer capable of covering the full gamut of ultra-low temperature storage from -20°C to -86°C.
See here for the full Puerto Rico case study: Puerto Rico COVID-19 Vaccine Case Study.
University of North Carolina deemed “Game Changer” for regional COVID-19 vaccine distribution
The 17-campus University of North Carolina (UNC) system includes several rural communities and six Historically Minority Serving Institutions (HMSI), including UNC Pembroke and others who often work with the Lumbee Native American Tribe in Robeson County, NC. With regional leaders throughout the US challenged to extend the vaccine cold chain into remote or immobile communities, Dr Jeff Warren of North Carolina Policy Collaboratory decided to address this problem head-on by looking at a range of ultra-low temperature freezer options.
Warren needed a freezer that could run on dual voltages, be reprogrammed to -20°C or -70°C depending on vaccine type received and had maximum storage capacity with the lowest risk of out-of-box freezer failures. It soon became clear that only Stirling Ultracold’s freezer line could check all the boxes.
Working with available CARES Act funding for COVID-19, and coordinating with the University of North Carolina System, Dr Warren and his team were able to purchase 63 Stirling Ultracold ULT freezers. Under the name “Operation Deep Freeze,” this order included 32 large upright units, 29 portable models and two mid-sized undercounter units. The combined storage capacity of these new ULT freezers is estimated to hold enough vaccines for the entire state of North Carolina. The units have been deployed to 15 UNC campuses, with each location receiving both upright and portable models.
As the ULT freezers were being received in Chapel Hill and shipped out to UNC campuses, local media was there to report on this “game changer” for regional COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Soon, all 63 ULT freezers will be in service, storing frozen vaccines at 15 UNC vaccination sites around the state, including six rural and HMSI locations.
See here for the full UNC case study: COVID-19 Case Study.