Distributing COVID-19 vaccines could pose challenges for rural communities

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Researchers across the country are working tirelessly to get COVID-19 vaccines ready for distribution. 

“If we really work together, and we really have a global effort to say we are going to get rid of this virus by vaccinating and by doing all of these things… we can do it,” said Dr. Eliza Chakravarty with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. 

One developed by Pfizer, and the other by Moderna are the furthest along, but both still await a stamp of approval from the FDA. 

“They’re basically looking at this from every scientific angle, but also from the angle of ‘would I give this to my sister, would I give this to my wife, would I give this to my child, would I give this to my dad?'” said Dr. Chakravarty. 

Both vaccines must be stored at cold temperatures. 

“One is super, super, super cold and the other is just really cold,” said Dr. Chakravarty. 

To stay stable, reports say Pfizer’s needs to be stored at a -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Moderna’s needs to be at -4. 

“What that means is we can’t just put it in an Amazon box or take it to the post office and mail it out to Walgreens or CVS or pharmacies to distribute,” she said. 

Right now, only certain facilities are equipped with proper storage, like hospitals or research facilities. 

Because of that, keeping these vaccines extremely cold while transporting them to faraway places, like Oklahoma’s rural communities, poses a challenge. 

“The last thing we would want to do is go to all this effort to make this vaccine and then have it denatured or not working because of something in shipping and storage,” said Dr. Chakravarty. 

There are some solutions or promising outlooks for those areas.  

Doctor Chakravarty says other vaccines are in the pipeline and they may not require special storage. 

“There are going to be other vaccines available hopefully that don’t require this level of freezing,” she said. 

For now, state, and federal leaders have a lot of details to work out. 

“Identifying facilities that have this storage, how much storage each facility can make, and then it’s going to be an issue of how to we get this from those specialty freezers to actual people,” said Dr. Chakravarty. 

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