As COVID-19 vaccine distribution ramps up statewide, shortages in ultra-cold freezers needed to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are hitting rural Idaho. Coordination between Idaho State University and Bengal alumnus Dave Jeppesen, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s director, is filling in the gaps.
ISU has freed up freezers for both the Panhandle and Southeastern health districts by consolidating freezers used for health science courses, Vice President of Health Sciences Rex Force said. Each freezer will provide room for potentially tens of thousands of doses, he said.
That capacity has become crucial amid a national backlog in ultra-cold freezer orders as providers expand their capacity for vaccine distribution. Related delays have compounded pandemic-related appliance shortages that predated national approval of any vaccine, Force said.
Though the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare ordered seven such freezers — one for each state health district — those won’t arrive until mid-January and mid-February across two shipments, department spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr said last week.
ISU hasn’t received any requests from Central District Health for freezers, Force said, but if “that request came through, that’s certainly on the table for discussion.”
“CDH has not heard of any ultra-cold storage capacity gaps in our jurisdiction and seem to have plenty of space among the health systems and beyond,” district spokeswoman Alina Gilmore told the Idaho Press Wednesday.
By Wednesday morning, 13,686 vaccine doses had been given to Idahoans, per the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, and the state’s vaccination efforts are expected to last into the summer, according to a new timeline projecting when groups will be vaccinated based on vulnerability and occupation.
Force says it’s likely students and staff on ISU’s Meridian campus will play a role in vaccinating local residents in the coming months. In particular, the university hopes to build off a mass flu shot event that provided 650 drive-up vaccinations in October, and though it’s “too early to tell”; a similar COVID-19 vaccine event may be in the works “just as soon as Idaho gets enough to begin distributing it more widely.”