A promising vaccine developed by drug giant Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech would need to be stored at ultracold temperatures that experts say could make it far more difficult to distribute than other potential vaccines.
Pfizer announced Monday that an interim analysis had shown the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, news that was greeted with near universal celebration among experts.
But the Pfizer vaccine is relatively unusual as it has to be stored and transported at an ultracold temperature of around -94 Fahrenheit (-70 Celsius), significantly complicating the process of getting the vaccine to people.
Ultracold storage is “is not necessarily routinely available in most health centers even in the U.K., let alone globally,” Michael Head, a fellow in global health at the University of Southampton said in a statement.
Vaccines often require some kind of cold storage to remain effective; some candidates for a coronavirus vaccine need to be held at cooler temperatures like 26 Fahrenheit (2 Celsius). They need to be kept this temperature not only while in storage but also while being delivering on planes and trucks.
The Pfizer vaccine would be considerably colder, requiring more than just refrigeration but something capable of producing freezing temperatures even during potential lengthy periods of transport. It has been done before, though at a smaller scale: A vaccine for the Ebola virus was notable for requiring ultracold storage. Pfizer has been preparing for the challenge by creating special containers that can last 10 days at -94 Fahrenheit, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Groups like the World Health Organization and UNICEF have said that countries need to improve their “cold chain” logistical networks to make sure vaccines can be distributed safely. The Associated Press reported last month that nearly 3 billion people live in areas where temperature-controlled storage is insufficient for the task.