Nacogdoches Fire and Rescue now has a working ultra-cold freezer able to store Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine ahead of an expected announcement next week authorizing the shot for children as young as 12.
Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and Fire Station No. 5 on North Street is the only facility in the county that can store the vaccine in the long term, Fire Chief Keith Kiplinger said.
“I have an ultra-cold freezer at our station No. 5 that is at negative 90 degrees as of yesterday,” Kiplinger said Tuesday.
Putting the freezer in a fire station made the most sense. Most facilities don’t have room for the equipment, which Kiplinger described as “a giant freezer” and paramedics don’t have to go through the same red tape as a hospital when transferring medicine.
“We can do it a lot more efficiently, I think,” Kiplinger said.
The fire department has already applied to directly receive the vaccine and will continue to distribute it through the summer. Once fall begins, officials hope to be able to give vials of the vaccine to school nurses on an as-needed basis.
Federal officials told The New York Times and The Washington Post on Tuesday that the Food and Drug Administration is expected by early next week to grant emergency use authorization that would allow children as young as 12 to receive the vaccine developed by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.
Following an FDA decision, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to recommend how the vaccine should be used.
Pfizer in late March released preliminary results from a vaccine study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, showing there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 18 among those given dummy shots.
In December, the FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for use in people 16 and older. Other vaccines manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for people 18 and older.
Around 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been given in Nacogdoches County. Those were all picked up from the Texas Department of Emergency Management in Lufkin when they had leftovers from vaccination efforts in small towns.
“Once it’s thawed, it has a five-day freezer life, so you’ve really got to move it,” Kiplinger said. “No shot left behind. If they call us and said, ‘We have 10 vials,’ we’re going to get 10 vials and get 60 people who want a shot.”
Pfizer isn’t the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Results also are expected by the middle of this year from a U.S. study of Moderna’s vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds.
But in a sign that the findings were promising, the FDA already allowed both companies to begin U.S. studies in children 11 and younger, working their way to as young as 6 months old.
More than 131 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have already been administered in the U.S., where demand for vaccines among adults has dramatically slowed in recent weeks.
While younger people are at dramatically lower risk of serious side effects from COVID-19, they have made up a larger share of new virus cases as a majority of U.S. adults have been at least partially vaccinated and as higher-risk activities like indoor dining and contact sports have resumed in most of the country. Officials hope that extending vaccinations to teens will further accelerate the nation’s reduced virus caseload and allow schools to reopen with minimal disruptions this fall.
Associated Press reporters Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.