More ultra-cold freezers required to store COVID-19 vaccine on way to Sask.
This photo provided by Pfizer shows Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine storage facility in Kalamazoo, Mich. (Jerica Pitts/Pfizer via AP)
SASKATOON -- One of the challenges facing Saskatchewan health officials as they plan the rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in the province is the ultra-cold temperature required to safely store the doses.
The first vaccine expected to arrive in Saskatchewan, the Pfizer-BioNTech, must be stored at temperatures below -70 C. The Pfizer vaccine received Health Canada approval on Wednesday.
The Moderna mRNA-1273, which is next in line for approval, is more forgiving — but still must be stored at -20 C.
During a news conference in Regina announcing the province's vaccine distribution plans, Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone said work is underway to obtain the equipment needed to store the doses.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is providing seven regular freezers and one low-temperature freezer, Livingstone said.
The Ministry of Health has procured 25 portable ultra-low temperature units and additional freezers have been purchased to store the Moderna vaccine, according to Livingstone.
While Livingstone said these steps are "important components" of the work ahead to distribute the earliest COVID-19 vaccines, he emphasized freezers capable of storing the doses are already in Saskatchewan.
"We do have per se, I guess a Plan B because we do have low-temperature freezers in our province already that are used in universities and labs across the province. So that we will take advantage if necessary, but it's unlikely that we'll have a challenge."
In a statement to CTV News, the University of Saskathcewan said the SHA has "reached out" regarding potential assistance with its vaccine distribution.
The university said it is reviewing the availability of ultra-low temperature freezers to accommodate the request.
"We will continue to support the province and the collective group efforts to respond to challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic," the university said.
The first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, enough for roughly 1,950 people, are scheduled to arrive in Saskatchewan Dec. 15.
Health care workers assigned to ICUs, emergency and COVID-19 wards at Regina’s Pasqua and General Hospitals will receive the bulk of the first batch of vaccinations.