What is the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine storage temperature and how will the UK store it?

2 December 2020, 14:44 | Updated: 2 December 2020, 15:36

The Pfizer vaccine will need specialist freezers and fridges to store them at low temperaturesSpecialist freezers and fridges are used to store many vaccines
The Pfizer vaccine will need specialist freezers and fridges to store them at low temperatures. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for the UK - but what temperature does it need to be kept at and how will we store it?

Around 800,000 doses of the Pfizer coronavirus jab are due to arrive in the UK in the coming days ahead of the rollout starting next week - but temperature does it need to be stored at?

Trucks have already been seen leaving the manufacturing facility in Belgium - where the drug is being made for transportation across Europe.

All vaccines require a certain temperature to be as effective as possible, which is what can make the delivery of vaccines to developing countries difficult.

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It is yet to be announced when the first vaccination will take place in England, but Scotland will begin offering the jab from next Tuesday.

Here's how the Pfizer Covid vaccine will be stored in the UK and the important temperature it needs to be kept at:

What temperature does the Covid-19 vaccine need to be kept at?

The drug has to be kept at -70C to reach maximum efficacy - much lower than the average vaccine.

But the chair of Commission on Human Medicine, Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, told a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday that the drug is "stable for a short period of time" at two to eight degrees.

Other Covid-19 vaccines developed - but yet to be approved - can be stored at room temperature or in a regular fridge, making them easier to deliver en-masse.

Many drugs require refrigeration including jabs for flu, rotavirus, Hepatitis A and B, polio, and MMR among many others.

How will the vaccine be stored?

Pfizer has created a special transport box - the same size as a regular suitcase - which has a GPS tracker and can be filled with dry ice to maintain cold temperatures.

The boxes can carry up to 5,000 doses at the safe temperature for up to 10 days and can be reused hundreds of times.

Once it has arrived at the facility, the drug must be stored in a specialist freezer or fridge - similar to a domestic appliance but with precise temperature controls and locks suitable for storing medicine.

Storing the vaccine at -70C presents problems for care homes, GP surgeries, pharmacists and hospitals which do not have the freezer capacity to store the drug at the scale ministers would like it to be rolled out.

Around 50 hospitals in England, and others around the UK, will receive the jab first - and reports suggest these are facilities that have a particularly large storage capacity.

The Welsh Government has been open about not being able to store the drug for use at care homes at the moment, but the UK Government has yet to announce whether it would be possible in England.

Asked about how it would affect the speed of the rollout, health secretary Matt Hancock told LBC the freezer requirements "are quite significant" and that it would be a "challenge" to meet the capacity needed for a rapid rollout.