KING CITY — The Monterey Bay Aquarium is loaning Mee Memorial Hospital in King City an ultra-cold freezer unit that will enable the hospital to boost the numbers of vaccinations it will be able to provide to the southern Monterey County area where agricultural workers have been hard hit by COVID-19.
Mee Memorial has been providing vaccines using the Moderna vaccine, which needs to be kept at minus 20 Celsius (-4 F). That enables the Moderna product to be stored in a standard freezer. But the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at an extremely cold temperature — minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 C). That’s more than twice as cold as the summit of Mt. Everest in winter.
The aquarium’s freezer was delivered Thursday morning to the hospital, which will now enable Mee to stock both vaccines and in turn provide more vaccinations, depending on supplies from the Monterey County Health Department.
Barbara Meister, the aquarium’s public affairs director, serves on a countywide COVID-19 collaborative and said it’s critical to get agricultural workers in the Salinas Valley vaccinated for their own safety as well as to serve the engine that drives the largest economic sector in Monterey County.
“It’s so important to create more equity in vaccine distribution to our communities that have suffered disproportionately because of historic lack of access to health care,” Meister said. “Agricultural workers especially have yet to receive the necessary volume of vaccination. With the strawberry harvest resuming in March, we’re doing all we can to help get vaccinations into farmworkers’ arms. That’s the key to getting our community healthy, and to reopening our economy.”
Both vaccines require second doses. Once vaccines are available from the health department, the hospital will be able to provide additional vaccines to that part of the county, where many essential workers in the agriculture and food services sectors live.
“While vaccines remain in short supply in Monterey County, this is great news,” said Rena Salamacha, the chief executive of Mee Memorial. “When the state and county release more Pfizer vaccines, this freezer will help to expand our ability to inoculate even more people in South County, keeping our communities safe and prioritized.”
Salamacha added that she is grateful for the work Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez provided in coordinating the loan of the freezer. Lopez said the freezer will help ensure the health of essential workers, particularly farmworkers, in the agricultural industry.
“Many essential workers in the ag and food services sectors have a high occupational risk of COVID-19 infection and are eager to be vaccinated,” Lopez said.
Mee Memorial is an important health care provider for southern Monterey County and some 44,000 residents there. The health care system’s reach runs from San Ardo to the south and up to the Soledad area to the north, Salamacha said.
The freezer unit left Natividad Medical Center Thursday morning where it had been on loan from the aquarium since December while the hospital awaited delivery of its own back-ordered ultra-cold freezer. The units are in high demand and short supply across the country.
The aquarium uses ultra-low temperature freezers to store research samples at its Juli Plant Grainger Animal Care Center. When the aquarium opened the center in 2018, they acquired a second freezer as back-up, enabling the loans to Natividad and Mee Memorial.
Contributed by local news sources