Southeastern Idaho Public Health, ISU team up to store incoming COVID-19 vaccine
POCATELLO — A new freezer recently delivered to Idaho State University has found an important use – storing southeast Idaho’s supply of COVID-19 vaccine. The freezer, a Thermo Scientific Revco RLE Series Ultra-Low freezer, is designed to hold a variety of items common to research facilities, such as tissue samples, DNA and RNA. With its capacity to store these substances at -86 degrees Celsius, and the fact that it’s not already full, it’s the perfect place for the incoming COVID-19 vaccine.
Pfizer’s vaccine, approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 10, requires storage at -70 degrees Celsius and is expected to reach Idaho in the next week or so. But a new freezer purchased by Southeastern Idaho Public Health won’t arrive until January 2021. That’s where ISU Professor and Chair of the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences Marvin Schulte got to thinking.
“We actually got two of these freezers for our labs in Pocatello early this year but only began using one of them before the pandemic caused us to move to distance-based instruction and significantly impacted our research,” Schulte said. “We didn’t even fully unwrap the second one, but we knew we would need it eventually. I’m glad that they will be able to use it.”
It’s not the first collaboration between ISU and the local public health districts. From the beginning of the pandemic, public health officials in Southeast Idaho and the Treasure Valley have worked alongside ISU faculty and staff at their Pocatello and Meridian campuses to help make decisions, distribute information and plan for the future.
Student pharmacists gathered on weekends to help bottle hand sanitizer at a distillery in Boise and student nurses answered phone calls at Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s COVID-19 hotline. Faculty and staff from across the University joined local COVID-19 incident command centers in both locations, while pharmacy faculty joined the COVID-19 response team in Anchorage, Alaska where there is a collaborative teaching site with University of Alaska Anchorage.
Now, with the vaccine on the way, local hospitals have reached out to ISU faculty in the hopes of recruiting students to help immunize the large numbers of people they expect to want the vaccine. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine require two doses, delivered weeks apart. The first shot is the “prime” vaccine dose and the second is a booster. Since student pharmacists are trained in their first year to give flu shots, they are a valuable resource for hospitals and health clinics looking to deliver the vaccine rapidly.
“That’s going to be where we can help the most, by having students available to give shots,” says Dr. Kevin Cleveland, assistant dean and director of the Office of Experiential Education for the College of Pharmacy. “Our students are experienced. We’re ready to go out into pharmacies or other locations and administer vaccines. The drive-up flu shot clinics we have already done helped prepare the students in an even more realistic scenario to be ready for the COVID vaccine.”
While exact numbers are yet to be determined, public health officials expect the first delivery of COVID-19 vaccine in southeast Idaho to be small, with larger quantities delivered in the coming months.