There is one warehouse in Dublin which receives all the Covid-19 vaccines brought into the country, and for the past month it has been getting a shipment around once a week.

At the moment, it's receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

In the future, the Health Service Executive expects six different Covid-19 vaccines to be stored here.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the trickiest to handle. It has to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, between -70C and -90C.

The Citywest facility, used for the HSE’s National Cold Chain Service, has ten ultra-low temperature freezers for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, another five freezers for the Moderna vaccines, which are stored at -20C, and large freezers with temperatures between -2C and -8C, for any future vaccines.

From arrival in the warehouse to handover at the vaccination site the vaccines are temperature checked and tracked by GPS. 

The Pfizer-BioNTech vials arrive into Ireland in what’s called a "shipper box". Inside are five trays, much like pizza boxes, Each tray holds 195 vials of the vaccine or 1,170 doses. Dry ice keeps the vials frozen at between -60C and -90C celsius.

Once received at the warehouse, the workers have less than three minutes from when the shipper box is opened, to remove the trays, label them, scan them and get them into the ultra cold freezers. The freezer door can only be open for 20 seconds, before an alarms sounds. The workers move fast and can now complete the process in just under two minutes.

The vaccines stay in the freezer until an order is ready to be filled and delivered. Once taken out of the freezer the clock is ticking because the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has to be administered with 120 hours or it will expire.

Orders for the vaccine are taken by the HSE. Under Phase 1 of the roll out, people aged 65 years and older who are residents of long-term care facilities are top of the priority list, followed by frontline healthcare workers. 

The day before inoculation the vials are moved to the fridge section of the warehouse and packed into smaller boxes, only the required number of doses are dispensed. It’s a precise exercise that aims to leave nothing spare.

"Everybody is just ready for this to be the first page of a new chapter."

The order is transported to the vaccination site in a refrigerated vehicle. If a driver finds out mid-journey there’s an outbreak of Covid-19 where he’s heading he’ll be diverted to somewhere else that can use the vaccines without delay. This has happened "very few" times, according to the Cold Chain Service team. 

On the day of our visit to the warehouse, an order left at 6am destined for St Camillus Hospital in Limerick. The next morning, 252 residents and staff of St Camillus Hospital are lined up to received the jab.

Among them is Nora Gray, a resident there for the past six years. She will turn 102 next month.

Nora Gray

"I’ll be getting it today," she proudly proclaims, "I don’t mind at all."

For the frontline staff it’s an important day.

"It’s a relief for everyone," says Healthcare Assistant, Saundra Ryan, who recently returned to work after maternity leave.

St Camillus Hospital has managed to keep Covid-19 out so far, but it’s a constant worry.

"We all know somebody now at this stage, it’s not just a number - it’s a name," says Jennifer Haugh, as she stands in line for the jab.

"So to have it will be peace of mind for all of us within our hospital and within our homes," explains the healthcare assistant.

Inside the vaccination clinic, the doses are prepared so as not to waste a drop.

"Initially we were told there were five doses of vaccine in each vial, then six, and it is possible if you are very careful and precise to get 7 doses out of each vial of vaccine," explains Dr Ann Hogan, Principal Medical Officer for the HSE MidWest region.

As she gets her vaccination, Sian Rowe McCormack briefly closes her eyes. "It’s phenomenally important day," says the Director of Nursing.

"Everybody is just ready for this to be the first page of a new chapter."

Sian Rowe McCormack

Latest coronavirus stories