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The Wait For A Vaccine

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been clear that a vaccine for the disease was needed. People all over the world have been eagerly awaiting news over the past few months as scientists developed and tested multiple prospective vaccines. For many, the distribution of a vaccine is the only way they will be able to return to their normal lives, operate their business, or enjoy their favorite forms of entertainment. Recently, scientists have started to see significant progress in vaccine trials.

Challenges: Storage And Transportation

Many people are excited about the latest data on the Pfizer vaccine, which states that it is 95% effective and safe to use. However, while this is certainly good news, people shouldn’t be too eager. Just because the vaccine is effective doesn’t mean that it will be readily available anytime soon. Other obstacles still need to be overcome before the average person will be able to get vaccinated.

One of the main issues that will need to be resolved is the storage of the vaccine. Pfizer’s vaccine has to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius or lower, which is no easy feat. Most hospitals, even the most prestigious ones, simply do not have the capability to store a vaccine at that temperature right now. This means that any hospital, pharmacy, or physician’s office would have to obtain ultra-cold storage solutions before receiving the vaccine.

Currently, the vaccines are no longer effective after five days of being stored in a normal refrigerator. In a special refrigerator with extremely low temperatures, on the other hand, the vaccines can be safely stored for up to six months with no effect on their potency. While hospitals could administer vaccines within five days with no issues, this intense time pressure could prove challenging. It is clear that ultra-low temperature storage would be preferable.

Not only that, but the vaccine also needs to remain at -70 degrees Celsius while it is being transported. This is crucial — otherwise, the effectiveness of the vaccine could be compromised before it even reaches its destination. Pfizer is currently working on potential transportation solutions, including the possibility of shipping the vaccine with dry ice to keep it at the recommended temperature. 

Cold storage and transportation will be more challenging for some areas than others. For example, smaller or less wealthy countries may not have the resources to implement special refrigeration for storage. Rural healthcare systems will also likely find this challenging, as will many nursing homes. This is troubling as elderly patients in nursing homes would likely be among the first to receive the vaccine since they are at high-risk. Many major hospitals in the United States are scrambling to purchase as many ultra-cold freezers as possible, resulting in shortages in some areas.

Other Options

Although several other vaccines have been developed that don’t require such cold storage temperatures, it appears that so far the Pfizer vaccine is the most effective and the most likely to be distributed soon. Healthcare providers are left with only a few possible solutions: try to obtain ultra-cold storage, use all vaccine doses within five days, or store the vaccines with dry ice in order to extend the period of time that they will be effective to fifteen days.

In the meantime, the general public shouldn’t get too impatient. It is likely that there will still be some time before an effective vaccine can be delivered to us safely and effectively. Ultimately, it is better to take the time to ensure that the vaccines will be transported and stored properly, rather than rushing into deliveries and wasting valuable doses when they become ineffective. 
During the waiting period, it is important to continue to be diligent about mask-wearing, hand-washing, and other preventative measures. The COVID Pre-Check App is one tool that is helping to prevent the spread of the disease while we await a vaccine. The app allows users to perform self-assessment tests and easily share the results of both self-assessments and medical tests with others using the “Virtual Handshake” feature. So download COVID Pre-Check, get out that hand sanitizer, and settle in to wait for just a little bit longer.