As Nevada starts rolling out the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, UNLV is stepping up in helping the state store doses of the vaccine. UNLV now has an ultra-low temperature freezer dedicated to the storage of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at temperatures between 80 below zero Celsius and 60 below.
This freezer goes along with one UNLV Medicine received from a generous anonymous donor. That one already has been certified by the state to store Pfizer and UNLV Medicine is working with the state to certify the new freezer. But how the campus came to get the freezer, commonly referred to as a “minus 80,” in the first place was a mistake.
A few months ago, a researcher in the Science and Engineering Building ordered the minus 80 to store samples used in research experiments. However, when the delivery arrived it turned out the company accidently sent two of the in-demand freezers instead of one.
Kris Davidson, UNLV’s research infrastructure manager, said knowing that this freezer was capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine, leaders in the Division of Research and Economic Development asked if there was a way they could pay for the second unit and keep it.
“A lot of people really came together at the last minute and helped to make this happen,” Davidson said. “It would have cost the company a lot of money to ship the freezer back, so Eric Knight raised the idea of purchasing it since minus 80s are in high demand right now.”
Dave Hatchett, associate vice president of research, was able to secure CARES Act funds, and the company gave UNLV a discount on the unit since it didn’t have to pay to ship it back.
Mary Simon, senior pharmacist in the Student Health Center, worked with the team to secure a place on campus that could keep the vaccine safe and still be accessible to the UNLV Vaccine Point of Distribution (POD) at the Student Union.
“A lot of planning was involved in accommodating the new ultra-low freezer,” said Simon. “Part of our team gave up their vacation days between Christmas and New Year’s Day to help get the freezer installed. The freezer needed a special 208-volt outlet. Our electrician, Dale Dempsey, worked diligently through the winter break to get it set up.”
Once the space was ready, however, it was discovered that the freezer was so massive it wouldn’t fit through the doors of the storage area. An installation team had to remove the doors to the freezer as well as the entrance doors and carefully maneuver the freezer inside with only a half-inch clearance.
Unfortunately, once installed, the freezer had a faulty compressor that kept it from getting cold enough and it had to be serviced out of state. When the team moved the freezer out, the door process had to be repeated. And once it was repaired, it had to be repeated again.
Davidson says by the third time the team was “very skilled” at removing and re-installing the doors.
Now that it’s finally in its permanent place the minus 80 will store vaccines can be used to immunize individuals at the UNLV Vaccine POD and eventually used by the UNLV Student Wellness/FAST Center.
“Having the freezer at UNLV will allow us to store vaccines in the required ultra-cold range that not many facilities have the capability to do,” Simon said. “It will allow for faster and easier access for our community. We are honored to play such an integral part in helping in the battle against COVID-19 and moving closer towards ending the pandemic.”
As of Feb. 26, the UNLV POD had administered 50,344 doses to Southern Nevadans.