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Covid-19 vaccine temperature requirements represent logistics challenge

Image credit: reuters

While the world cheered the news that Pfizer had developed an effective vaccine for Covid-19, the need to store it at ultra-low temperatures has raised logistical concerns.

While initial trial results suggest that the vaccine could be up to 90 per cent effective on combating the virus, to maintain its efficacy it needs to be transported and stored in temperatures below minus 70 degrees Celsius.

According to Professor Gordon Dougan, infectious disease and vaccine specialist from the University of Cambridge, most vaccines are stored at or around 4°C, which is an easy temperature to meet for refrigerated transport.

But the extreme temperature requirements for the Covid vaccine suggest that bespoke refrigeration methods may be needed to ensure its wide deployment.

“You can imagine the chain of delivery of that vaccine,” Dougan said in an interview with the PA news agency.

“It depends on how long after the vaccine has been delivered, say to a GP, it can be kept at room temperature or close to room temperature. I don’t think they’ve announced all the details of that yet.”

The NHS has said it has already been preparing for a vaccine delivery and last week its chief executive Simon Stevens acknowledged that some vaccine candidates need ultra-cold storage.

But the strict temperature requirements also pose larger challenges for countries in Asia, as well as in much of Africa and Latin America, where the climate is already hotter than in many developed nations and the infrastructure less developed.

The World Health Organization estimates that 70 per cent of people must be inoculated to end the pandemic and Asia is home to around three-fifths of the global population.

Philippines’ Health Secretary Francisco Duque told Reuters: “On the cold chain requirement of -70 degrees, that is a hefty requirement. We do not have such facility.

“We will have to wait and see for now. “The technology Pfizer is using is new technology. We don’t have experience with that, so risks can be high.”

Dr Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at the University of Reading, said: “With all vaccines, ensuring that they are stored distributed and administered properly is essential, and huge efforts are under way to ensure this is possible for new vaccines.

“For example, the task of producing substantial amounts of a new vaccine and distributing widely will be a challenge, not least for this particular formulation where ensuring that it can be appropriately frozen until needed and must not be allowed to thaw in transit.

“Some reports have indicated this particular vaccine requires storage at -80C, needing specialist storage and distribution.

“I’m confident that institutions and businesses will be reacting rapidly with efforts similar to what we saw in the spring when they stepped up to support increasing testing and PPE production.

“Medicine manufacturing and distribution networks and the healthcare professions, pharmacists, nurses, GPs as well as manufacturers and distributors, who together deliver vaccine services will be under pressure and we must invest in and support these vital sectors wherever possible.”

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