Major distribution hurdles await as Pfizer vaccine requires extreme cold to work

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There are all sorts of logistical obstacles to rushing a coronavirus vaccine to market.

Keeping it cold and fresh between the factory and your arm is the immediate concern. Because this is a rush job, in part, the potential Pfizer vaccine requires unbelievably cold temperatures at around -70°C to remain active.

That’s a chilly -94°F.

There aren’t a lot of freezers up to the job, according to Stanford University Infectious Disease Control Physician Dr. Yvonne Maldonado.

"There are these freezers available, but they are expensive," Dr. Maldonado told KCBS Radio. "They’re very large. They are located in mostly large hospitals or academic research laboratories."

Your local CVS or Walgreens won’t be getting one of these special freezers.

But that’s okay, because those wildly cold temperatures aren’t necessary for the last week maybe two before inoculation. After reaching vaccination centers, the shots must be thawed from -70°C and injected within five days.

If not, they’re no longer usable.

That means distributors will likely need to keep it cold and deliver the vaccine on a timely basis - or face dire consequences - leading to considerable hurdles even for developed countries like the United States, and possible nightmare scenarios for poorer nations or ones with vast rural areas, like India and China.

Managing Director Nilesh Acharya handles a fresh production of coarse dry ice pellets at the Dry Ice Nationwide manufacturing facility on November 11, 2020 in Reading, England.
Managing Director Nilesh Acharya handles a fresh production of coarse dry ice pellets at the Dry Ice Nationwide manufacturing facility on November 11, 2020 in Reading, England. Photo credit Leon Neal/Getty Images

Dr. Maldonado said that while the first of the vaccine may be available as early as next month, it’s far from a silver bullet against COVID-19.

"We are just right in the middle of it," she explained. "In fact, I think given the holiday season coming up, we just have to be even more careful and concerned."