No Hawaii hospitals have what’s needed to properly store the leading COVID-19 vaccine

Updated: Nov. 13, 2020 at 5:02 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are currently no Hawaii hospitals with the proper equipment to store one of the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, according to Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel.

“Not a single hospital in this state has that capability," he said.

That’s because the vaccine requires storage at -75 degrees Celsius (or -103 degrees Fahrenheit) to maintain it’s efficacy. Some Hawaii laboratories do have the equipment, but it’s not likely they have the space needed for a large number of vaccines.

Pfizer’s announcement Monday that its vaccine appears to be 90% effective in clinical trials sent the health community into a frenzy with hopes the pandemic could be defeated in a matter of months. But the sobering news followed that the requirements to receiving it were out of our reach right now.

State Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the House Health Committee, said the state is working to tackle the daunting logistical task of getting residents vaccinated.

“We’re optimistic but very cautiously optimistic," he said.

State Department of Health officials said in a statement that they do have a plan for when the vaccine is ready for release in Hawaii.

“Our federal partners relayed to DOH that the Pfizer vaccine will be shipped in thermo-insulated containers that can store between 1,000 and 5,000 doses of vaccine at ultra-cold temperatures maintained with dry ice," the Health Department said.

"A fresh recharge of dry ice in the vaccine container allows ultracold storage for five days. The container will require another replenishment of dry ice every five days until the vaccine is administered.”

DOH said there is an Oahu distributor of the pellet dry ice and that a memorandum of understanding and existing contract relationships, will ensure the transport of the pellet dry ice to Neighbor Islands.

The vaccine can be put in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Any longer than that and it has be thrown away.

Raethel pointed out that two doses are needed ― about 28 days apart ― so an adequate supply needs to be available.

Mizuno said the needed dry ice will make it difficult to get the vaccine into the community.

“Rural areas like Waianae, and Puna, outside areas in Maui,” he said.

Other companies are working on vaccines that don’t require such extreme handling. Moderna is working on one that can be stored at -4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not difficult for Hawaii hospitals.

Raethel said the U.S. Department of Defense does have the cold storage capability to handle doses of the Pfizer version. Hawaii News Now did ask Tripler Army Medical Center if that was an option for the state. However, the public information officer refused to provide any details.

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