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UA says it's ready to be a cold storage site for 1.6M doses of COVID-19 vaccine
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UA says it's ready to be a cold storage site for 1.6M doses of COVID-19 vaccine

The University of Arizona says it expects to serve as a “hub” for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine with a new storage site able to hold 1.6 million doses required to be kept at subzero temperatures.

Each of the eight storage freezers making up the university’s “freezer farm” will potentially hold 100,000 to 187,000 doses of the vaccine built by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna.

Seven of the freezers will store the Pfizer doses at minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit while Moderna’s will need storage at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit in order to maintain its structural integrity and functionality.

There are two additional freezers on the way that can hold doses at minus 4 Fahrenheit, the school said Friday in a news release.

“While specialized facilities are necessary to provide ultracold storage for the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine can be stored in freezers that are commonly found at health-care provider offices and pharmacies,” the UA said.

The vaccines are built using messenger-ribonucleic acid, a single-stranded biological molecules that “teach our cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein — that triggers an immune response inside our bodies,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s unlike traditional vaccines, the CDC said, made with a “weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies” to trigger an immune response.

The CDC said the “mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19 and do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way.”

Before they arrive at the UA, the doses will be kept in boxes where dry ice can be replaced every five days for a maximum of 15 days.

The UA expects the first doses to arrive by next week, where they could help the state’s medical providers with distribution.

“Each freezer at the UArizona freezer farm will be closely monitored by trained personnel, and several tanks of liquid nitrogen are on hand to help maintain safe freezing conditions in case of technical issues or power outages,” the school said. “The secure facility has restricted access and is monitored 24/7 to prevent unauthorized entry. For added security, no individual is able to access the facility alone.”

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or sdavis@tucson.com

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

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