Story at a glance
- Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said its coronavirus vaccine appears to be 90 percent effective.
- This and another potential vaccine use a technology that requires especially cold storage.
- Public health experts are concerned that this will mean that some poorer areas can’t access the vaccine.
While the pharmaceutical companies behind several potential COVID-19 vaccines are touting their developments, many Americans are getting antsy for a vaccine — and an end to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
News from Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech earlier this week played to those hopes, as the company announced that early results from its late-stage clinical trial showed its COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective at protecting participants when compared with a placebo saline shot.
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Moderna’s vaccine candidate uses similar technology, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Washington Post that the finding “gives you hope we might even have two vaccines.”
But that technology — which uses synthetic mRNA to activate a response from the immune system — might be a bit tricky to handle, logistically speaking, Reuters reported.
“The cold chain is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of delivery of this vaccination,” Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Reuters. “This will be a challenge in all settings because hospitals even in big cities do not have storage facilities for a vaccine at that ultra-low temperature.”
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told Reuters it would not be able to store the vaccine if it were available today. Currently, the vaccine needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 F) or below to last up to six months. And the necessary freezers aren’t cheap at $10,000 to $15,000 each.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised state health departments not to purchase the freezers, STAT reported, saying that other vaccines will be available soon — even as thousands die of COVID-19 each day in the United States. But some states who can afford the freezers are purchasing them.
Of course, the work isn't done yet, and BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters they're looking to extend the vaccine's life to two weeks at normal refrigeration temperatures of slightly above freezing (currently, it's about five days).
Still, even normal procedures can prove difficult for underresourced areas, both domestically and internationally.
“If Pfizer’s is the only vaccine to be authorized in the next few months, we do worry about equity when it comes to spreading it to rural areas,” Claire Hannan, executive director at the Association of Immunization Managers, told Reuters.
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