Communities support public health by donating ‘super-freezers’ for vaccine storage

UMATILLA, Ore. – In smaller or rural towns, vaccine rollout has become a ‘ready, set, wait’ scenario. When it comes to storing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the need for a freezer has posed some roadblocks as well.

“I think that ramping up part we haven’t really seen yet,” Umatilla Public Health Director Joseph Fiumara said.

So far, the county has received around 400 doses from the state and a couple hundred from nearby hospitals.

“One of the frustrations is, we don’t really know, I don’t really know where that pinpoint problem is at. I don’t know if – there’s not enough being made, it’s not being sent to the state,” Fiumara said.

That’s not the only issue. The county wanted to have the ability to administer the Pfizer vaccine but it must to be stored in a ‘super’ freezer.

“They’re so backordered, you know, across the country, we didn’t even put an order in,” he said.

Luckily, the OSU Extension Service lent them a freezer but they’re still waiting on doses.

“It’s just sitting empty at the moment, we’re maintaining it, we’re ready to go, and we’ve made sure the state’s aware,” Fiumara said.

It’s a similar situation in Yakima and Walla Walla.

Last year, Professors with Whitman College, Jim Russo and Brit Moss figured they could rearrange one of their super freezers if it was needed to store the vaccine.

“It was that connection with our former student at the Department of Health that really kind of moved it forward, and got us into contact locally,” Russo said.

It turns out, they had a Whitman alumni who is working on vaccine rollout in Washington. She helped them get in contact with the health department who referred them to Providence St. Mary’s Medical Center.

“Everybody said, ‘absolutely, let’s make this happen,’ anything that we can do try and make the vaccines as accessible as possible in our community as quickly as possible,” Moss added.

In Yakima, Agro Fresh Inc. donated three ultra-freezers to the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic and nearby hospitals.

As for Umatilla County, Fiumara said when they get the doses, they are ready to administer.

“I think it goes to shot that so many folks realize that this truly is our avenue out of where we’re at right now, and the faster we can get vaccines in arms the better off we’re gonna be,” he said.

The health department hopes to have a vaccine administration after the 23rd when Oregon enters into a new phase.