February 22, 2021
Pfizer announced on February 19 that it is seeking permission from the Food and Drug Administration to store its COVID-19 vaccine for two weeks at temperatures that still are extremely cold, but that are commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators, CNBC reports.
The vaccine, which was developed with German drugmaker BioNTech, currently needs to be stored in ultra-cold freezers that keep it between minus 112 and minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the FDA.
If the FDA grants the request, it could simplify logistics for distribution of the vaccine. U.S. federal and state officials are trying to pick up the pace of vaccinations as the virus spreads.
“We have been continuously performing stability studies to support the production of the vaccine at commercial scale, with the goal of making the vaccine as accessible as possible for healthcare providers and people across the [nation] and around the world,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a release. “If approved, this new storage option would offer pharmacies and vaccination centers greater flexibility in how they manage their vaccine supply.”
Medical experts had warned that Pfizer’s vaccine would present logistical challenges because of the need for ultracold temperatures. In December, U.S. officials said they quarantined several thousand doses in California and Alabama after an “anomaly” in the transportation process caused the storage temperature to get too cold, CNBC notes.
The vaccine is shipped in a special thermal container that can be used as temporary storage for up to 30 days , if it is refilled with dry ice every five days. Before mixing with a saline diluent, the vaccine also may be refrigerated for up to five days at standard refrigerator temperature, between 36 degrees and 46 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the company.
By comparison, Moderna’s vaccine needs to be shipped at between minus 13 and minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. It has said its vaccine remains stable at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator, for up to 30 days. It can be stored for six months at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
As additional stability data is obtained, Pfizer said it anticipates the shelf life could be extended, and alternate short-term temperature storage may be considered.