MIDLAND, Texas — Getting the COVID-19 vaccine out to the community is not going without challenges.
Medical Center and Midland Memorial Hospital seem to have a mass vaccine system down.
Once those in phase 1A and 1A get vaccinated, the hubs will slowly stop and leave the vaccine to be administered by private physicians in the community.
But first, those physicians must prove to the state that they have the equipment needed to properly store the vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at negative 94 degrees (F), while the Moderna vaccine needs to be stored at negative 4 degrees (F).
Doug Cochran, a family medicine doctor, tells us it is nearly impossible for private physicians to get their hands on the ultra-cold freezers that would allow them to properly store the vaccine.
The increase in demand has created almost a black market for them.
“The public might think, 'oh he’s a doctor...he has great connections to some medical supply house' but we’re like everyone else," Cochran said. "We’re looking on eBay, second-hand suppliers, I would go looking through a junkyard if I knew they worked.”
Finding them is one thing. Affording them is another.
“It’s been terrible," Cochran said. “These things have been raised thousands of dollars."
Cochran explains freezers that were once $4,000 dollars are now $20,000 dollars.
"A square foot ultra-low freezer can be $15,000 dollars and the full walk-ins can be $50-100,000...it is insane.”
And just because you order one, does not mean you will get one.
“I got burned by one guy in California who had a good reading (on eBay)," Cochran said. "He took my money and ran but luckily, PayPal protected me and got me my money back."
Cochran usually orders his medical supplies from a catalog, but there is no catalog for COVID-related equipment.
“Usually we can look at our catalogs and go that’s what we want, that’s a fair price and it’ll be here in two days," Cochran said. "But there is no precedent for this.”
Dr. Cochran has been trying to get an ultra-cold freezer since December. He is hoping this week the one he ordered arrives.
Another thing he is hoping for?
That the Johnson and Johnson single-shot vaccine does not require an ultra-cold freezer. Instead, it just needs to be kept in a regular freezer like the flu shot.
Many doctors already have that equipment.