It was nearly 9 a.m. on Dec. 14, in an industrial looking room of stone walls and stainless steel that was as crowded with news cameras and broadcast reporters as social distancing etiquette would permit. As Jennifer Harrison lifted a surprisingly small box containing 195 vials — approximately 1,200 doses — of the new, and very cold, Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, she was mentally processing a lot of information.
Top of mind for Harrison, a career nurse and senior director of clinical operations at UT Health Austin and the Dell Medical School, was the protocol for receiving and storing the anxiously anticipated clear liquid, which she had been reviewing on Zoom calls with various medical and regulatory authorities for over a week. A man from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was present because this was one of the first shipments of vaccine to be delivered in Texas, had just finished taking photos to document that the specially designed containers packed in dry ice had arrived undamaged. He had also checked that the sophisticated digital temperature sensors that were transmitting data back to the manufacturer confirmed that the box’s contents had never warmed above the required minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
The medical-research-grade deep freezers into which Harrison, her hands protected by a double set of dark purple gloves, placed the boxes were just one of the reasons UT Health Austin had been selected by the state as a vaccine distribution center for front-line health care workers. As she closed the freezer door, took a deep, steadying breath and turned to face the cameras as an impromptu spokesperson, she understood that, like the unbroken chain of technology and logistics that preserved the vaccine by keeping the vials almost unimaginably cold, The University of Texas at Austin was an essential part of the chain of events that would ultimately lead to a promised end to a global pandemic of historic proportion.