AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Tarrytown Pharmacy team may not be first to get allotments of COVID-19 vaccines, but the nearly 80-year-old Austin small business is positioning to get doses as soon as the state sends shipments its way.
As pharmacist in charge Rannon Ching donned cryogenic gloves to protect his hands and arms from the subzero temperatures of the pharmacy’s new freezer, he said the price tag was worth it.
“This machine here costs anywhere between $10,000 to $13,000,” Ching said, explaining the freezer took three months to build from scratch by the company he bought it from.
“It did take some time,” he said. “But we’re glad we have it.”
He wanted it, because Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius. The temperature inside Tarrytown’s new ultra-low freezer was set to 80 below on Wednesday.
‘We’ll just put a bunch of multi-dose vials and different vaccines in there and make it work,” he said, opening each of the freezer’s sections to showcase the storage space.
Larger hospital systems will get the first 1.4 million doses Texas is allotted in the coming days, according to state and federal vaccine distribution plans.
“We have more than 7,200 providers already lined up across the entire state of Texas that are waiting just to receive these vaccines,” Gov. Greg Abbott said from Washington, D.C. before participating in a vaccine summit at the White House on Tuesday.
Texas healthcare workers and nursing home residents will get first dibs on receiving the vaccine.
“Then there are other frontline workers, those who are on the frontlines every single day, it could be in restaurants, it could be teachers, those who are exposed to a lot of people that may have COVID,” Abbott explained.
Small businesses like Tarrytown Pharmacy will take a back seat to the healthcare systems with bigger infrastructure until doses become more publicly available.
“The thought process was if one of the vaccines that was approved could be stored at an easier temperature like refrigeration or at a freezer temp, then those would a lot of times go to big healthcare systems and a lot of times the small independent pharmacies or the local businesses might be overlooked,” Ching stated. “But if we could position ourselves to have the capability to store the ultra-low vaccine like Pfizer, then that would give us a really, really good opportunity to get the vaccine so we can immunize our patients and the community.”
In the meantime, Ching is educating his staff on the specifics of the freezer so when they get their first doses to distribute they’ll be ready.
Ching said one of the downsides to taking on this effort is there are limited uses of the ultra-low freezer aside from storing COVID-19 vaccines. The Tarrytown team will look to sell its freezer to a biology research laboratory once its no longer needed, and Ching will try to recoup some of the cost.