SEA airport preparing to receive millions of ‘ultra-cold’ vaccine shipments

VIDEO: Preparations for the first shipment of COVD-19 vaccines

SEATTLE — KIRO 7 has learned many of the first lifesaving doses of COVID-19 vaccine will arrive at SEA airport on traditional airliners, but it will not be handled like any traditional cargo.

The vaccines, which are being shipped from the manufacturer in Kalamazoo, MI, will be carried inside special Swedish made freezer containers designed to keep the Pfizer vaccine stored at 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and the Moderna vaccine at a stable 30 degrees.

Dr Jesse Erasmus is a UW Medicine professor who’s designing and testing a vaccine here in Seattle.

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“I definitely think that maintaining that cold chain custody is going to be extremely important to keeping these vaccines effective,” he said.

Dr Erasmus told us RNA vaccines are extremely unstable when they’re not kept ultra-cold. An enzyme, which is on every surface, can degrade the vaccine if it’s warm.

The ultracold freezers used to store the vaccines can be $10,000 to $15,000 and Harborview Medical Center has just ordered more of them.

“They’re definitely not your run of the mill freezer, they use a lot of power,” said Erasmus.

And when power freezers aren’t practical in shipping, shippers will use tons of dry ice. Dry ice will help UPS and other shippers in special vaccine shipping units. It will also be used in Pfizer’s own shipping box, which can keep the vaccine stable for twenty days.

Erasmus said the cold chain of custody will be facing a historic test, making certain the vaccine is stable.

“Not only do you need the freezer, but you also need a very good power infrastructure in place to maintain those freezers, and on top of that, these freezers are notorious for breaking down.”