Story at a glance

  • Vaccines that use messenger RNA must be stored in extremely cold temperatures.
  • The requirement poses a challenge to rural and poorer countries lacking the resources.
  • Pfizer announced an interim analysis found its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

Pfizer’s promising new COVID-19 vaccine could face significant distribution challenges, particularly in rural areas or poor countries. 

That’s because vaccines that use messenger RNA to activate the immune system against the virus — such as Pfizer and Moderna’s experimental shots — must be stored in extremely cold temperatures to remain viable. 

Pfizer’s vaccine candidate will need to be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or below to be effective, a high bar for rural and poorer parts of the world lacking the technology and resources. 


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“It does have cold-chain challenges as it were. In a country like the UK and the United States we can address them and it still would be challenging. But, probably much more challenging in countries in the developing world,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said during a Financial Times’ global pharmaceutical and biotechnology conference, according to Reuters

“That’s the reason why when we put together our plan...we want to have a diversity of what we call vaccine platforms. It is not just mRNA...there are three separate platforms that are being looked at in the United States,” he said. 

On Monday, Pfizer announced an interim analysis found its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 after weeks of mounting coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the country. The full data from the clinical trial has yet to be published. 

The pharmaceutical company needs to wait until the third week of November to finish gathering two months of safety data required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before applying for emergency authorization. 

Pfizer is aiming to deliver 50 million doses before the end of the year and up to 1.3 billion in 2021. General vaccination programs are expected by the end of March to early April. The vaccine will be made available for free in the U.S. 

Fauci said Pfizer’s positive results may indicate Moderna’s vaccine may also be highly effective against the virus since both use similar technology. 


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Published on Nov 11, 2020