‘Logistical issues’ could occur with a vaccine that needs storage at -70C

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine could pose some “logistical issues” if it is approved for widespread use because it needs to be stored at ultra low temperatures, experts have said.

Many vaccines which require cold storage need to be kept at around 4C or lower but it has been suggested that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at -70C.

This could pose problems for transport and storage of the vaccine.

Professor Gordon Dougan, infectious disease and vaccine specialist from the University of Cambridge, told the PA news agency: “There’s logistical issues.

“Most vaccines you would store in the cold, say 4C or below – you wouldn’t necessarily have them frozen like this certainly at -70C.

“So you can imagine the chain of delivery of that vaccine.

“It depends on how long after the vaccine has been delivered, say to a GP, can be kept at room temperature or close to room temperature.

“I don’t think they’ve announced all the details of that yet.”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health, University of Southampton, said that if the vaccine is approved for use by regulators then there could be difficulties posed by the temperature that the vaccine needs to be stored at.

“If this Pfizer vaccine candidate is licensed, there will be difficulties around logistics and distribution,” Dr Head said.

“It has been reported that the vaccine requires storage at -70C and that is not necessarily routinely available in most health centres even in the UK, let alone globally.”

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, added: “There are production and distribution problems to be overcome, but these should not be beyond the wit of human ingenuity.”

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.”

Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School, said the news from Pfizer and BioNtech was “encouraging” but added: “The challenge with the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine is the need to store and maintain the vaccine at very low temperatures (-70 to -80C).”

But the NHS has said it has been preparing for a vaccine delivery.

Last week NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens acknowledged that some vaccine candidates need ultra low storage.

He told a press conference: “So it’s going to be a combination of what GPs are able to do, what community pharmacists are able to do, but also mass vaccination centres, which is one of the purposes we will be using the Nightingale Hospitals for, and other locations as well.

“There will be roving teams who will prioritise care homes and social care staff and other vulnerable groups.

“But the bulk of this is going to be the other side of Christmas, but we want to be ready.”