How Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could be key for rural Arizona communities

Moderna announces 30,000 participants enrolled in Phase 3 of COVID-19 vaccine trial
Posted at 3:48 PM, Nov 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-25 19:31:13-05

PHOENIX — While the Pfizer vaccine may be the first out of the gates, soon injected into the arms of our frontline healthcare workers and those most vulnerable, it will be the Moderna vaccine, also seeking final approval, that brings immunity to the smaller communities scattered around Arizona.

“I think that the first phase is going to look very different from the second phase,” said Dr. Stephanie Jackson, Senior Vice President with HonorHealth. “The very earliest vaccines will be given likely at these mass vaccination sites.”

That’s because the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at -80 degrees Celsius in uncommon, expensive ultra-low temperature freezers.

“That vaccine has very significant cold storage requirements, so only systems with certain freezer capabilities are going to be able to administer that vaccine,” said Dr. Jackson.

Both the Pfizer vaccine and Moderna vaccine have proven 95 percent effective in phase three trials. But Moderna’s storage requirement is the game changer. Stored at between two and eight degrees Celsius.

“That one is a freezer vaccine but it’s not ultra-cold, so that opens it up,” said Kelly Fine, CEO of the Arizona Pharmacy Association.

She says rural areas will depend on local pharmacies for the vaccine and having one that only requires a regular low-cost freezer is critical.

“Pharmacies are located in very rural parts of the state, we have locations really in every pocket across the state, which puts us at an advantage in being able to reach those hard-to-reach patients,” said Fine.

It will also make it more widely available at doctors' offices and smaller health clinics, impacting rural America and beyond.

“As we start to get into the other vaccines, whether it’s a Moderna vaccine or some of the other ones further down in the pipeline, those will be more accessible to rural areas or eventually to other parts of the world where they don’t have a sophisticated medical system,” said Dr. Jackson.