In Race for Vaccine, a Cold Truth

There may not be enough freezers icy enough to store the shots
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2020 12:23 PM CDT
In Race for Vaccine, a Cold Truth
A phlebotomist draws blood from a study participant on Sept. 2, 2020, in Miami.   (AP Photo/Taimy Alvarez)

"Do we have enough freezers?" That's a question many may not be pondering now, but it's an important one when it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine, per the Wall Street Journal. That's because the inoculation samples that may soon emerge might need to be stored at incredibly cold temperatures, and freezers that get that chilly aren't typically found in pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors' offices, which would theoretically be distributing the vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech, for example, have a vaccine in the works that needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit)—a temp about 30 degrees Celsius frostier than the North Pole at its coldest, Quartz notes. "There’s no precedent for vaccines to be stored at that low of a temperature," a pharmacist and purchaser for health care facilities tells the outlet, which notes these types of freezers are typically found only in labs.

So why don't states just find companies that make these freezers and stock up now? The CDC is advising against doing that, as there's still no vaccine out, meaning that although this is being presented as a hypothetical issue, we don't really know for sure what the best way to store an eventual vaccine will be. And the freezers themselves aren't the only problem. The number of days a vaccine is viable could be cut into during transport (i.e., this could especially affect rural areas), and the containers Pfizer has created to hold its vaccine—capable of carrying up to 5,000 doses—could lead to waste if there aren't enough people in a particular region to use them all. Pfizer, however, doesn't seem too concerned just yet. "We are confident of our capability to deliver and store doses to the [destinations] governments designate," the company said in a recent statement, per ABC News. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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