Saskatchewan

University of Regina offers to store COVID-19 vaccines in super-cold freezer

The University of Regina has offered freezer space for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The university says it has emptied out two large freezers for the vaccines

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored between minus 60 and minus 80 degrees Celsius. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The University of Regina has offered freezer space for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine has to be stored between –60 and –80 C, and the university said there are relatively few places in the province with storage at these temperatures.

The university said it's working with the Ministry of Health to be one of the hubs for the vaccine to be delivered across the province.

Kara Loos, a research associate and lab manager for the faculty of science at the University of Regina, has also been helping with COVID-19 testing at the Roy Romanow provincial lab in Regina.

She said two freezers at the University of Regina (U of R) have been emptied out — one in its supply management facility and the other in the Research and Innovation Centre. These two freezers can store material at the required –80 C.

"We've committed to being available should the space be required," Loos said.

The university says there are not many facilities in the province that have proper freezers, like the one pictured at the U of R, to store the COVID-19 vaccine. (Submitted by Mindy Ellis)

She said the Roy Romanow lab in Regina — where the vaccines are currently stored — has many storage freezers available, but there is a limit to how many can be stored.

Loos said most vaccines are not stored at such low temperatures, so there's not a lot of space for the COVID-19 vaccines.

"The space is available should you need it, we don't have a time put in place for when the vaccines are going to be stored there," she said. "But they're definitely made available should it need to happen today or tomorrow or at any time."

Loos said the vaccine is being transported to Saskatchewan on dry ice, but this method of delivery is challenging since dry ice is considered a dangerous good.

"Once it gets to its location it can be stored at –80 C in the freezers but then once you get it to fridge temperatures it's only good for up to 30 days," Loos said. "So this becomes a challenge when getting into more remote locations and where dry ice isn't as available."

Loos said the vaccine cannot be refrozen once it's thawed.

She said it would be ideal for the vaccines stored at the university to be used for the residents of Regina because the transportation becomes less complicated, but there is potential for the vaccine to be made available to other places in the province.

"It just depends on what the need is and where it fits into the plan with SHA and how they administer the vaccine."

Loos said if needed, other researchers at the university are willing to give up their freezer space if more vaccine storage is required.

"Whatever the demand is, we'll be able to support the Roy Romanow provincial lab in that storage."

CBC has asked the Saskatchewan Health Authority for comment on this story.

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