The process of getting vaccinated for COVID-19 starts long before receiving an injection. Working behind the scenes to prepare vaccine recipients for their long-anticipated shots, a small team at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is charged with ensuring the vaccines are properly received, stored, prepared and distributed at the state-run University of Arizona Point of Distribution (POD) for Pima County.
The team is led by David Harris, PhD, executive director of the UArizona Health Sciences Biorepository and a member of the BIO5 Institute, and Michael Badowski, PhD, associate research scientist in the Division of the Translational and Regenerative Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the College of Medicine – Tucson.
Each week, new shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine arrive to the “freezer farm” on the Tucson campus, where more than 15 freezers are kept at a controlled temperature of minus 76 degrees Celsius to properly store the precious vials of undiluted vaccine. Before use, the vials are thawed overnight, then packed inside a cooler and transported by foot with a police escort to the University POD. Once there, they are diluted with saline by a pharmacist or student in the College of Pharmacy; each vial of undiluted vaccine will supply six doses.
These efforts to safely store and mix the Pfizer vaccines are a collaboration between researchers at the College of Medicine – Tucson and pharmacists and students from the College of Pharmacy. Many other Health Sciences volunteers including faculty, staff and students from the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and College of Nursing are essential to deliver the COVID-19 vaccines at the University POD.
Mona Arora, MSPH, ABD, principal research specialist for community environment and policy in the College of Public Health, is the co-chair of the UArizona Vaccine Task Force that helped set up the POD in record time. Dr. Arora continues to coordinate the POD and works for greater vaccine distribution equity for the diverse communities in Pima County.
Faculty, staff and students are also supporting additional initiatives to deploy the COVID-19 vaccines in other parts of the state, including outreach to underserved populations.