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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

April 2021

Freezer donations add COVID-19 vaccine storage capacity in North Carolina

Thanks to a grassroots effort at NIEHS, 11 ultracold laboratory freezers are on their way to communities across the state.

On March 16, NIEHS shipped 11 ultracold laboratory-grade freezers to the North Carolina (NC) Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), thanks to a grassroots project from within the institute’s Office of Management.

The donation is the brainchild of three Office of Management employees, who took it on as part of a leadership training program:

  • Andrea Davis, management and program analyst.
  • Kerri Hartung, sustainability coordinator.
  • Rick Weaver, inventory management specialist.
ultracold laboratory freezers Eleven ultracold freezers were collected from laboratories, cleared by HSB, and readied for pickup from the NIEHS Net Zero Energy warehouse. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

The project took advantage of energy efficiency upgrades that are part of the institute’s continued sustainability efforts. As a result, more communities in the state are equipped to receive doses of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.

Kerri Hartung gives a thumbs up Hartung applauded the teamwork that made donation of the freezers possible. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

The team did not work alone. “It came to fruition thanks to many helping hands across the institute,” said Hartung (see sidebar).

“Many of our rural counties have been relying on dry ice storage because they do not have the required ultracold freezers,” noted NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D. “This is a fantastic representation of NIEHS as a caring partner in the COVID-19 fight.”

No simple feat

According to Inventory Management Officer Kim Jones, donating federal property is not as simple as hauling it to the nearest willing recipient. She ultimately worked through the NC Federal Surplus Property program and NC DHHS, which picked up the freezers.

From there, the state took over. “To simplify the direct donation process and subsequent distribution, NC DHHS will act as a centralized hub, identifying counties in greatest need and transporting the donated surplus freezers to their end users,” Hartung explained.

According to Amanda Williford, Pharm.D., from NC DHHS, her agency will collaborate with other state agencies, such as NC Emergency Management and the Division of Public Health (DPH), to determine which localities will receive freezers.

“The donation of the freezers will lessen the burden of storing the vaccine in a thermal shipper container provided by Pfizer and of having to continue procuring and replenishing dry ice every couple of days,” she said. Williford added that adequate and plentiful storage provides a true safety net for storing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. “We [NC DPH] are grateful for this partnership with NIEHS.”

David Mills and Rick Weaver move a freezer Weaver, right, and David Mills, from NC Emergency Management, exemplified federal-state partnership as they moved freezers into the waiting truck. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

Regarding post-pandemic use of the freezers, Jones noted that they now belong to the state, which can decide how best to use them. Laboratory-grade freezers have potential uses from health care settings to community colleges and other educational and training programs.

The NC Emergency Management office picked up the freezers from the NIEHS warehouse, which is itself an exemplary effort in sustainability, with LEED Platinum certification.

“Another example of great teamwork and great leadership!” exclaimed Matthew Burr, head of the Administrative Services and Analysis Branch.

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