Some minority-serving campuses in NC receive ultra-cold freezers to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to communities

More ultra-cold freezers are on the way to help store the COVID-19 vaccine, more specifically, historically minority-serving universities around the state including North Carolina Central and Fayetteville State University.

NC Central will get seven freezers as part of the broader effort to increase cold storage capacity. The university will then give them to places like the Halifax or Granville Health Department or even the Lumbee Tribe to use.

Four other historically minority-serving institutions in the UNC System -- including Elizabeth City State University, North Carolina A&T University, UNC Pembroke and Winston-Salem State University -- received a mobile freezer Wednesday that's capable of safely storing and moving COVID-19 vaccine vials. Those already delivered are a portion of the 62 slated to arrive in the coming months as part of Operation Deep Freeze.

"As somebody said, the vaccine doesn't prevent disease. Vaccination does," said Dr. Deepak Kumar director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute (BBRI) at NC Central. "We need to have vaccination widely for us to achieve herd immunity."

In total, 15 institutions in the UNC System will receive the freezers that can store the vaccines at temperatures as low as -112 Fahrenheit.
"I think this means access," Dr. Kumar said. "If you don't have access to the freezers, you can't get a vaccine if you want to."

This was set up as part of the NC Policy Collaboratory -- established in 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly to utilize and disseminate research expertise across the UNC System for practical use by state and local governments.

In May 2020, state lawmakers approved $29 million to the Collaboratory to oversee COVID-19 research. Dr. Kumar said it's been crucial to document where vaccine hesitancy exists so they can provide that data to state health officials.

"Our goal is to make sure that we do what we can to provide access to underserved communities to the vaccine," he said. "If we have the freezers to do it, we'll do that, if it's vaccination camps, we'll do that."

This doesn't change the way the state is distributing vaccines or the priority list.
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