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ISU sending vaccine freezer to northern Idaho because ‘Bengals stick together ‘


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Image courtesy of Idaho State University

POCATELLO — Like they did when Southeastern Idaho Public Health presented a need, Idaho State University is jumping to the assistance of the Idaho Panhandle Health District.

The university’s Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences has already loaned out one of their lab freezers to SIPH.

Now, it is sending one to Northern Idaho to further assist in the storage of the COVID-19 vaccine.

An ISU-SIPH collaboration is easily understood. As to how the Pocatello-based university linked up with a district based in Hayden, nearly eight hours away? That is a Bengal thing, said ISU VP of Health Services Rex Force.

“The director of health and welfare [Dave Jepsen] is a Bengal, and he and I are friends,” Force said. “I reached out to Dave and he put me in contact with the vaccine lead for the state. We said, ‘we can make some freezers available, we can consolidate some storage’ — we’d be able to do that if they had needs.”

A single freezer will arrive early next week, likely Monday or Tuesday, Force said. That single freezer, capable of maintaining the vaccine at its required minus-70 degree Celsius, has enough space — about 10 cubic feet — to store upwards of tens of thousands of doses.

The vaccine is kept in what Force likened to large pizza boxes, each containing 975 doses.

Sticking with the pizza-box analogy, Force said that the demands of each district will fall on the number of pizza boxes each receives.

As of right now, the need in Southeastern Idaho and the Panhandle do not fall beyond the capabilities of one freezer apiece. But should needs arise, in those two districts or any other, ISU could potentially find a way to further consolidate its freezers.

Prior to lending the use of its freezers to the health districts, Force said ISU put together an agreement with the health districts allowing their use for one year. That agreement can easily be renegotiated, Forced added.

The state has ordered freezers meeting the requirements for each district but demand across the country extends far beyond the reaches of supply.

Should either district need the loaned freezer longer, Force said the university would be able to accommodate.

ISU is also prepared to assist the state and health districts with manpower.

“We’ve got to train our students to be able to deal with the current health challenges that we’re facing.”

Students studying in health profession fields, primarily pharmacy and nursing, Force added, have already been involved with the treatment of COVID patients and have experience in administering flu shots.

“It’s very possible that some of our health care students will be involved in the distribution of the vaccine, and setting up vaccine clinics. Right now, we don’t have that much vaccine to give, with only a few pizza boxes in each health district.”