Manitoulin Health Centre orders ultra-cold freezer for vaccines

Manitoulin will have its very own ultra-cold freezer soon that will have the capability of storing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Shutterstock

LITTLE CURRENT – Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) is expected to receive an ultra-cold freezer later this week, a piece of equipment that will allow the hospital to accommodate up to 22,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, enough for two doses for most people on the Island.

“It’s very exciting to have this freezer coming,” said MHC president and CEO Lynn Foster. “The freezer and a warming fridge have been purchased from the COVID fundraising.”

Last year, M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige initiated an Island-wide fundraising campaign to procure new ventilators for MHC. They managed to secure four new versions of their aging LTV-1200 models but had a considerable amount of money left over after the fundraising push netted more than $200,000.

MHC has reserved some of those funds for the vaccination program within the health unit, to ensure the hospital can play a major role in roll-out plans. As of press time, it is not known when more vaccines will become available for individuals living on Manitoulin Island outside of LTC homes.

“Should (public health) decide that (MHC) is an ideal spot to store the vaccines, then we’ll need to be ready and have safety measures to make sure the vaccine continues to be viable,” said Ms. Foster, explaining that further leftovers from the earlier fundraising will go toward the potential future costs involved in a mass vaccination program.

Some of the security measures include connecting the freezer to the hospital’s building management system. This will enable alarms in case the freezer temperature rises beyond a safe point.

Senior staff at the hospital got together in late December 2020 to determine if an ultra-low freezer would be a good fit for MHC. They ultimately placed the order near the new year.

Because of the strong working relationship among Island health providers through the Manitoulin Collaborative, MHC will be able to ensure vaccines get out to high-priority populations first, such as Indigenous individuals who access primary care from organizations like Noojmowin Teg or Mnaamodzawin Health Services.

“I’m hoping it gives our community some hope. We’ve been very lucky that we have not seen the surges that are taking place in southern parts of the province, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not feeling it either,” Ms. Foster said.

MHC is planning to store the freezer and warming fridge at its Little Current site because the building is larger than the Mindemoya hospital.

The Expositor contacted other small regional hospitals in the North Shore area; only Espanola General Hospital provided a response by press time. A spokesperson said the hospital is waiting to see which vaccine it will get before making any procurement decisions.

A recently-released vaccine playbook from the health unit details some potential vaccination sites across the Island, though some major communities were missing from the list.

MHC has begun to have internal discussions about the order in which it will prioritize its own employees, from highest to lowest risk. Ms. Foster said those who do not have direct contact with patients will be last in line on the internal list.

She expressed hope to Islanders and urged them to hold strong on their adherence to public health measures until vaccines can deliver herd immunity closer to the end of the year.

“We’re a strong community and we’ll get through this together. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter every week,” she said.