UNE lends ultra-cold freezer to Maine CDC to store COVID-19 vaccines

John Reid, left, facilities manager at the University of New England, stands with Karen Houseknecht, UNE’s associate provost for research, and Steven Boucouvalis, emergency operations coordinator with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The ultra-cold freezer was delivered to a Maine CDC facility in a location that’s being kept secret for security reasons
Freezer
John Reid, left, UNE facilities manager, stands with Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and associate provost for Research and Scholarship, and Steven Boucouvalis, emergency operations coordinator with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

When the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) reached out for help, the University of New England was immediately on the scene.

The Maine CDC needed an ultra-cold freezer for storage of Pfizer’s vaccine for novel coronavirus COVID-19, which has to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius. And, as one of the state’s only institutions with such a unit, UNE was one of the first to lend its support and loan a freezer to the state’s public health agency.

The date: Tuesday, Nov. 17. The mission? Top secret.

Codenamed “Operation Penguin” by Karen Houseknecht, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and associate provost for Research and Scholarship at UNE, the freezer, a 27-cubic-foot Stirling Ultracold from the University’s School of Pharmacy, was transported to a secret location for use by the agency.

To move the freezer, all of the samples kept inside it had to be preserved with dry ice, and the appliance was moved swiftly but with great care, so as not to damage it. The first round of 12,675 doses of the Pfizer vaccine has yet to arrive in Maine — it is expected to next week — but Houseknecht said she was proud UNE could take part in addressing the current public health crisis.

“It was a big logistical challenge, because none of us has been through a pandemic before,” Houseknecht told the Portland Press Herald, which covered the story at length. “But that’s what people do around here. You figure stuff out.”

 

View this news at WGME CBS 13 and Maine Public.

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UNE's ultra-cold freezer, on loan to the Maine CDC, sits in a secure facility awaiting vaccines from Pfizer

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