The challenge of eradicating COVID-19 isn’t over with a drug on the market. Instead, the challenge now shifts to distribution and education. The medical supply chain has to meet the high demand, while patients and their families have many questions about the vaccine, including if it’s safe, side effects and who should receive it first.
Non-acute healthcare facilities must take a proactive approach to receive, store and provide the vaccine. They must also have a strategy for identifying and notifying patients who should receive the vaccine first.
PLAN ON A COLD STORAGE SUPPLY CHAIN AND DEEP FREEZE STORAGE
Shipping vaccines sometimes requires doses to be transported and stored at extremely low temperatures. Cold storage will likely create challenges for the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine and any other vaccine that becomes available. Vaccines like Pfizer’s that use the synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) to activate the immune system against the virus must be stored at an ultracold temperature between -76 and -112 degrees F (-60 to -80 degrees C) to maintain optimal efficacy, according to USA Today
The vaccine from Moderna also uses mRNA technology. That vaccine will need to be stored at -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C), according to reports.
Storage, distribution and handling requirements for these vaccines will make it difficult for community clinics, healthcare providers and local pharmacies to store and administer them. State and local providers are responsible for storing and administering the vaccines once they’re delivered.
Pfizer has been working with the U.S. government and state officials on the best way to ship the vaccine. The comprehensive plan involves using dry ice to transport frozen vaccine vials by air and by land at their recommended temperatures. The company developed a special thermal shipping container that can be kept cold with dry ice and store vaccine doses for up to 15 days, notes Forbes.
Non-acute medical providers like clinics are expected to be major vaccination sites, but they are not all equipped with the specialized cold storage appliances needed for the vaccines. As a result of the cold storage supply chain and shipping requirements, transporting the vaccines to rural areas may be extremely difficult because of the challenges of keeping the temperature of the doses stable.
Solving the problem isn’t as simple as buying the ultra-cold deep freezers. They cost $5,000 to $15,000, which puts them out of reach for many rural providers. Even if facilities have the money, the freezers may not be available. Many large hospitals and providers have already purchased them, creating a shortage. The upside is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says other vaccines may be available soon that do not have the same storage requirements.
One of those could be from Mynvax. Its “warm” COVID-19 vaccine is ready for safety tests and human clinical trials. One unique benefit of the vaccine is its ability to be stored at 98 degrees F (37 degrees C) for more than a month, which eliminates the need for a cold supply chain.