FARGO — In the 11th hour of Pfizer's first wave of vaccine shipments, North Dakota and northwest Minnesota are ready. Sanford has two specialized vaccine freezers in Fargo, and Essentia has one each in Fargo, and Detroit Lakes and Brainerd, Minn.

They pack a greater punch than our worst blizzards. These roughly $10,000 units will store vaccines at about minus 100 degrees.

"They're not very good for anybody's lunch," said Dr. Doug Griffin, Sanford's chief medical officer. "It would just be way too cold."

Griffin said the freezers are an investment for the future, even when the COVID-19 pandemic is in the world's rearview mirror.

"There are some unknowns. Will we need to do a COVID vaccine on a yearly basis?" Griffin said. "So I assume we aren't going to just discard them."

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At Essentia Health, Dr. Rich Vetter said after being stored, vaccines can be kept at standard refrigerator temperatures for less than five days. Having freezers spanning across northern Minnesota will ensure they can get the vaccines shipped out to rural areas.

"We don't want to keep the vaccines in the freezer," Vetter said. "We want to get them out to the patients and to the staff that need that vaccine. So we don't really anticipate storing it for very long."

A recent Gallup poll shows about 63% of Americans plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and Vetter said that is about on par with typical flu shot rates.

"We know that there's a significant number of the population that for whatever reason is resistant or reluctant to vaccinate," Vetter said. "But I think it is our best hope to keep particularly our highest risk and most vulnerable patients healthy."

Both health networks expect to start vaccinating their health care workers next week — something that should gradually alleviate hospital strain in January.

Vetter said Pfizer vaccines are being focused on health care workers, while the Moderna vaccine will be used at long-term care facilities.