Pfizer and BioNTech's announcement of the efficacy of their coronavirus vaccine candidate has brought cheer to people. Pfizer announced on Monday that their vaccine candidate has shown more than 90 per cent efficacy. It is the first major candidate to announce successful data from a large-scale trial. However, things might not be as rosy as it appears going forth. Once the vaccine is approved, which is likely to happen to BioNTech and Pfizer candidate, distribution and acceptance by people might remain a daunting task.
Moreover, the temperature that needs to be maintained for transportation and storage of the vaccine is -70 degree Celsius that again, raises questions on logistics. Investment firm JP Morgan, commenting on the Pfizer vaccine said, "There are three hurdles to overcome on the road to immunity: (1) a vaccine needs to be approved, (2) distributed, and (3) accepted. Among the three hurdles, transporting and storing a vaccine that in the Pfizer version needs to be maintained at -70 degree C (or 30 degree C degrees colder than the temperature of the North Pole) is coming down to a question: does the world have enough freezers?" further adding that distribution and logistics pertaining to production, transportation and administration are emerging as major challenges.
Such logistical challenges could hamper the distribution plans not only in developing nations like India but also in advanced countries like the US. "The cold chain is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of delivery of this vaccination. This will be a challenge in all settings because hospitals even in big cities do not have storage facilities for a vaccine at that ultra-low temperature," said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
One of the leading hospitals in the US, Mayo Clinic does not have the capability. "We're talking about a vaccine that needs storage at minus 70 or 80. That's a tremendous logistical issue not only in the U.S. but outside the Western world. We're a major medical center and we don't have storage capacity like this. That will be true for everybody. This is a logistical obstacle," said Dr Gregory Poland, a virologist and vaccine researcher with the Mayo Clinic.
Pfizer spokesperson Kim Bencker said that the COVID-19 vaccine can be kept in ultra-low temperature freezer for up to six months or for only five days at 2-8 degree Celsius, that's commonly accessible in refrigeration systems at hospitals.
BioNTech Ugur Sahin said companies are trying to work out if the five-day period can be extended to two weeks.
Meanwhile, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson and Novavax have said that their vaccines do not need to be stored at such low temperature.