Oakland County installs 10 freezers after FDA clears Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published December 14, 2020

 Oakland County receives specialized freezers to store COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use.

Oakland County receives specialized freezers to store COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use.

Photo provided by Oakland County

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use Dec. 11, paving the way for an initial shipment of about 2.9 million doses of the vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. over the next week.

While not an FDA approval, the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine “holds the promise to alter the course of this pandemic in the United States,” according to Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.. 

“Today’s achievement is ultimately a testament to the commitment of our career scientists and physicians, who worked tirelessly to thoroughly evaluate the data and information for this vaccine,” Marks said in a statement.

Michigan is expected to receive 84,825 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, according to Lynn Sutfin, the spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. If the Moderna vaccine also is granted emergency authorization, the state is expected to get 173,600 doses, but Sutfin said both numbers are “subject to change.”

Within two weeks of vaccines being shipped to Michigan, Sutfin said, all hospitals and health departments will receive a shipment. Priority will go to paramedics and health staff who work on general hospital floors and in intensive care units and emergency rooms. 

State officials said vaccine distribution will continue to roll out over a series of weeks, starting with paid and unpaid health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities; followed by some workers in essential and critical industries, including workers with unique skill sets such as non-hospital or non-public health laboratories and mortuary services; then people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions and people 65 years or older; and finally, a mass vaccination for all adults. 

Vaccination in these phases will likely overlap, according to state officials, who said that by late spring 2021, enough of the vaccine should be available for everyone who is recommended to receive it.

 Statewide, officials said, 48 hospitals and 12 local health departments currently have the right type of deep cold freezers to store Pfizer’s vaccine. 

In Oakland County, the Health Division installed 10 medical-grade laboratory freezers — which are equipped to handle extreme temperatures — in various Health Division facilities Dec. 11. A first shipment of the vaccine was expected the week of Dec. 14, after press time.

The freezers, which cost a total of about $400,000 and are being paid for with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, can keep temperatures as cold as minus 86 degrees Celsius. One of the vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer, requires the vaccine to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius. 

Each 723-pound freezer can hold 144,000 doses of the vaccine and features alarms to ensure a consistent temperature.

A first shipment of the vaccine was expected the week of Dec. 14-18.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter said officials are anxious to get the vaccine to first responders and health care workers as soon as they arrive.  

“We moved quickly to ensure we had the adequate storage capability to meet the needs of the county. As more vaccine arrives, we will move on to additional priority groups working hand in glove with our health experts,” Coulter said in a statement.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is administered as a series of two doses, spaced 21 days apart. 

When enough of the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the Oakland County Health Division will administer the vaccine 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the same drive-thru locations in the county that perform free COVID-19 testing and give flu shots, by appointment only; these include: the Rochester Fire Station, 277 E. Second St. in downtown Rochester on Tuesdays; the Old Holly Fire Station, 313 S. Broad St. in Holly, on Mondays; the Southfield City Hall employee parking deck, 26000 Evergreen Road in Southfield, on Wednesdays; and the Pontiac Fire Station, 348 South Blvd. in Pontiac, on Thursdays.

Appointments for COVID-19 testing and flu shots are required and can be made by calling Oakland County at (800) 848-5533. 

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.oakgov.com/covid. Call the Nurse on Call at (800) 848-5533 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Friday and 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays with health-related questions. For all other COVID-19 questions, contact the COVID-19 Help Hotline at (248) 858-1000 or hotline@oakgov.com. 

Call Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at (586) 498-1060.