B.C. college researchers design critical transportation and storage device for Pfizer vaccine

·2 min read
Researchers at Camosun College have designed an acrylic tray that can hold 100 vials of the sensitive Pfizer vaccine at below freezing temperatures and a device that can quickly move vials in batches from freezers to the trays to be safely transported around the province.  (Submitted by Camosun College - image credit)
Researchers at Camosun College have designed an acrylic tray that can hold 100 vials of the sensitive Pfizer vaccine at below freezing temperatures and a device that can quickly move vials in batches from freezers to the trays to be safely transported around the province. (Submitted by Camosun College - image credit)

A research team at Victoria's Camosun College has come up with a way to safely store and transport vials of the temperature-sensitive Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the invention will now play a significant role in the mass immunization plan currently rolling out across B.C..

Camosun Innovates staff have created an acrylic tray that can hold 100 vials of the vaccine in an upright, stable position, along with a handling device that allows health-care workers to move five of the vials from fridge storage to the tray at one time.

An invention that allows quick, effective handling like this is critical for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be stored at temperatures between –80 C and –60 C. If the vials are out of the cold for more than a few minutes, they are rendered useless.

A total of 450 of the trays have been made for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control so far.

"The feeling of contributing in not just a small way... was really exciting for us," said Richard Gale, Camosun Innovates director.

Richard Gale, director of Camosun Innovates, said not only has his team created an innovative vaccine transport tray, they also produced face shields earlier in the pandemic as well as a portable mask sterilizer.
Richard Gale, director of Camosun Innovates, said not only has his team created an innovative vaccine transport tray, they also produced face shields earlier in the pandemic as well as a portable mask sterilizer.(Submitted by Camosun College)

It is not the first contribution the applied research and design centre has made to the fight against COVID-19. Staff have also fabricated face shields and a portable mask sterilization unit for the Island Health Authority.

Gale said acrylic was chosen for the tray material because it can withstand temperatures as low as –150 C without shrinking so much that the vials are damaged.

The trays are laser-cut in the college's lab and their 100 placeholders are separated into four quadrants so health officials can quickly count how many vials they have on a tray at one time.

The placeholders each have little '"feet" that hold the vials upright and stable.

"Like a small chess board," is how Gale described the look of the tray Tuesday during an interview on All Points West.

Researchers worked with pharmacists at Victoria General Hospital to make sure the handling device, which resembles a pair of scissors with a claw-like grabbing mechanism, was efficient and easy to use.

Gale said the trays are meant to be sterilized and reused but the team can promptly churn out more if needs be.

As of March 23, 557,508 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C., with 87,168 of those being second doses.

LISTEN | Richard Gale talks about Camosun Innovates' contributions to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis: