UNCP gets COVID vaccine freezer to aid distribution efforts

Tracking The Vaccine

PEMBROKE, N.C. (WBTW) — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke has received a special freezer to store and transport COVID vaccines as part of a statewide program.

The university’s freezer can hold 1400 vials at temperatures as cold as 80 below zero Celsius.

“We were able to get it through the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory,” associate vice chancellor for campus safety and emergency operations Travis Bryant said. “They’re actually working with all the UNC campuses to receive some freezers. To be able to store and transport the vaccine to locations so the vaccine can be distributed.”

It’s called Operation Deep Freeze, where 62 freezers are headed to 15 research institutions within the UNC system. Provided by the NC Policy Collaboratory at UNC Chapel Hill, the statewide initiative is set to increase the Tar Heel State’s total cold storage capacity by 1.86 million vials.

The system’s six historically minority-serving institutions- including UNCP- were the first to get the freezers. UNCP got its freezer Tuesday.

“COVID-19 has hit a lot of minority communities harder than other communities,” chief communications & marketing officer for UNCP Jodi Phelps said. “So to be able to get these freezers first and to get them out there and to start serving the communities that are the hardest hit, to start building some of that vaccination rate is so important.”

UNCP also was able to get a large freezer for the county’s health department, which is able to store over 50,000 vials.

“Our local health department had a challenge,” Bryant said. “They were receiving vaccines and it was coming in the cardboard box with dry ice. So they needed a better way to store the vaccine.”

Bryant says UNCP is expecting another large freezer and two smaller ones– adding up to a capacity of over 100,000 vials between the five.

“It makes sense we would be a partner for our local community because we have a large population here and we do have a tremendous impact on our community,” Bryant said.

The university has been at the forefront of the COVID fight in Southeastern North Carolina. It’s held mass testing events, conducted COVID research and is now aiding in the vaccination process.

“We’re so proud of the way we’ve been able to leverage a lot of our partnerships and resources on campus to step up and fight COVID-19 in our community,” Phelps said. “From the very beginning we knew we would play a major part in that.”

The university is also looking at the possibility of becoming a mass vaccination site down the road.

“It’s going to involve a lot of staff and a lot of volunteers and a lot of folks working together to form this partnership because this is a very important endeavor,” Bryant said.

Classes for most students at UNCP begin Feb. 1. Students will begin move in next week. Residential students and other groups will be required to show proof of a negative COVID test. The university is hosting testing events ahead of the semester and throughout the spring.

There are currently three places offering vaccines to those eligible in Robeson County. County officials said Friday they’re looking into other potential locations but none are official yet. They remind residents that they need to return to the same location they got their first dose.

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