A few days ago, it was reported that Pfizer and BioNTech are already wrapping up their coronavirus vaccine trials. In fact, both expressed plans to seek regulatory approval for emergency use as early as October. While this development appears to be great news for the medical community, there might be a problem that needs immediate attention as noted by analysts. While the two companies certainly have the resources and facilities to meet manufacturing targets, its distribution could face some issues.
Earlier reports pointed out that the biotech firms plan to produce 100 million doses of its vaccine before the year ends. By 2021, it hopes to ship out 1.3 billion doses to supply the global demand for COVID-19 inoculation. Meanwhile, the formulation of the BNT162 jab needs to be stored at approximately 70 degrees Celsius below zero. This means regular refrigeration systems used to transport most types of vaccines and drugs do not meet the requirements.
ABC News reports that this was the topic in a meeting at the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) held by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Pfizer's senior director of global supply and product portfolio management Brian Gleeson said: "The shipper will utilise real-time temperature-monitoring devices, including GPS tracking and technology, to allow for 24/7 in-transit control."
The coronavirus vaccine will rely on an elaborate delivery platform which uses a unique storage system that can hold 1,000 to 5,000 vaccines at minus 70 degrees Celsius. It can reportedly maintain the temperature for up to 10 days. Pfizer assures its partners that its established delivery network already supplies existing vaccines to around 165 countries.
A company spokesperson added: "We are confident of our capability to deliver and store doses to the destination's governments designate, according to product shipping and storage requirements." However, most pharmacies and healthcare facilities are not equipped with ultra-low-temperature freezers to safely store the vaccines. Herein lies another challenge for Pfizer and BioNTech.
Some analysts believe that a cold-chain distribution system is a likely solution. This appears to be feasible in highly urbanised locations, but might not be the same for those in rural areas. Another aspect that is being discussed is overseas shipping, which again presents another set of challenges. On the other hand, Pfizer and BioNTech might already have a strategy in place which they will discuss in detail once they receives the go-ahead from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).