LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Mechanical engineering students at the University of Colorado are working on a solution to get more COVID-19 vaccines into rural communities by cold storage levels.

The students have developed the “PortaVax.” It’s essentially a portable vaccine carrier that can keep up to 250 vaccine doses cold for several days using insulation and dry ice.

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While Pfizer and Moderna created safe and effective mRNA vaccines to distribute around the world, they need to be kept very cold — around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit for Pfizer and about minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit for Moderna.

Those requirements present a big challenge for communities that lack reliable electricity or cannot afford ultra-low temperature coolers.

“For us here in the United States, it’s a lot easier for us to get in our car or possibly a bus and go to that large-scale vaccination center. For a lot of the world that’s unfortunately not a possibility for them,” says Brayden Shelley, a CU Boulder senior mechanical engineering student. “We’re so happy we can help.”

PortaVax, a three-gallon, hexagonal, bottle-shaped structure, extends the time vaccines are kept cold during the last mile of transport, without using electricity. In early tests, the device can maintain a temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit for four days.

“Vaccines are distributed unequally around the world and, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it became apparent that mRNA vaccines were also going to be distributed unequally,” said Evan Kirk, a senior mechanical engineering student who is working on the project.

The students are developing PortaVax with feedback and insights from experts at the Jodhpur School of Public Health in India, a connection facilitated by their industry mentor Param Singh.

“These students are getting a far broader education than just engineering,” Singh says. “They get to interact with the real world. They have to come up with, ‘What’s the need? What’s the market? Who’s going to pay for this? How are you going to sell it?’”

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The team at CU is also working on a patent as they prepare to graduate.