Company loans ultra-cold freezers to Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic for coronavirus vaccine
The Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic received an unexpected but much-needed surprise this Christmas season in the form of ultra-cold storage freezers for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine this month. Scientists estimate that the vaccine, which requires two doses, is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 – the disease caused by the virus – one week after the second dose. Doses should be stored at temperatures of minus -94 degrees Fahrenheit.
The sudden and urgent need for ultra-cold storage has resulted in a shortage of equipment across the country. Lori Kelley, senior director of quality at the farm worker clinic, said she didn’t expect staff to be able to get an ultra-cold freezer until next spring.
But employees of Yakima’s AgroFresh Solutions, a company specializing in the storage of fresh produce, noticed that they were not using three of their ultra-cold storage units. They asked if the clinic might want them.
This helping hand has been a blessing, especially as the clinic serves more than 181,000 patients who otherwise would not have access to primary care, Kelley said.
“We’re the best place to make sure the most vulnerable in our community have access to this life-saving vaccine,” Kelley said. “This will allow us to serve our patients and our community faster and more effectively.”
Freezers go to clinics in Yakima, Toppenish and Grandview, and the clinic in Yakima received its freezer this week.
Julio Cruz, Regional Operations Manager for the Pacific Northwest of AgroFresh, started his career with the company as an apple picker before moving on to a management role over the years. Cruz said he and other workers understood the challenges faced by farm workers in the area or received treatment at the Yakima Valley Farm Worker Clinic.
AgroFresh, which hires a significant number of seasonal workers for its operations, had an existing relationship with the Farm Workers Clinic. Cruz said employees who were showing symptoms or may have been exposed to the coronavirus had been tested at the clinic.
“We follow the news, like everyone else,” he said. “We said someone needed ultra-cold storage. We saw the need here. We got together locally with the team and decided we had to do something.
Cruz said the company wholeheartedly supports the idea of loaning out the ultra-cold storage freezers.
“I am truly grateful to be working for a company that was ready to step up. They understand it’s essential, ”said Cruz. “We were able to help our community and we are very grateful.”
Paul Nelson, commercial director of AgroFresh-North America, said the company sees itself as part of the Yakima community and is keen to help.
The company is looking to see if it can loan other available ultra-cold storage units to community agencies in need, it said in a statement.
The FDA cleared the Moderna vaccine for emergency use last week. The vaccine also requires two doses, but Moderna doses do not need ultra-cold temperatures.
The first vaccines will be sent this month to frontline health workers, residents and long-term care staff.
Six agencies in Yakima County have been approved, or are in the process of being approved, for the distribution of licensed coronavirus vaccines. These agencies are the three county hospitals, the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, the Community Health of Central Washington, and the Neighborhood Health Services.
Rhonda Hauff, COO of Yakima Neighborhood Health, said the healthcare system expects to receive doses in the coming weeks. Staff are not yet sure whether they will receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, so they are planning and preparing for both, Hauff said.
Neighborhood Health does not have ultra-cold storage, but Pfizer vaccine ships in thermal shippers where it can be stored for up to 20 days.
“We will be ready for whatever we receive,” Hauff said.
Hauff said the medical care providers at Neighborhood Health had all said they wanted to be vaccinated, which encouraged other staff to receive the doses.
“I am optimistic that as many of our employees as possible will be vaccinated,” Hauff said. “We know these vaccines have been tested. Science is behind it all. We are very excited. “
Hauff said the neighborhood health department could start immunizing as early as next week, if they receive the vaccines by then.
Dr Michael Schaffrinna, chief medical officer of community health in central Washington, said receiving the Moderna vaccine was a guarantee at this point. But staff are also ready to receive and administer doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Virginia Mason Memorial, which has ultra-cold storage units, has agreed to host a box of Pfizer vaccine doses for community health if needed, Schaffrinna said.
Community Health already has standard refrigeration and freezer units in its clinics to store the Moderna vaccine, Schaffrinna said.
“When the vaccines arrive, we will take them to the proper storage,” he said. “Two of our sites are already ready to administer the vaccines.”
Schaffrinna said staff will monitor those who receive the vaccine for 15 to 30 minutes to watch for side effects, which have been mild for most patients according to recent research. Schaffrinna said staff plan to vaccinate up to 30 patients per hour, for a total of more than 200 people per day during the initial stages. He hopes that one day clinics can increase that number to around 480 people per day.
“It will not happen overnight,” he admitted. “We are looking to hire additional people. There are a lot of little things that go into the plan. “
Schaffrinna said many of her staff are keen to receive the vaccine. He said he would be the first in line. Her son, who is in his 30s, was hospitalized with the virus – a development that has made the fight against COVID-19 personal for Schaffrinna.
“It is a deadly virus for which we cannot predict which people it will kill or hospitalize,” he said. “Initially, some people were reluctant to get vaccinated. But that number is decreasing as people realize that the vaccine is safe and very, very effective.
Contact Lex Talamo at [email protected] or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.