The lack of ultracold freezers needed to store potential COVID-19 vaccine candidates has become an obstacle in the race to develop and distribute the drugs. There aren’t enough of them, say experts, to store the many vaccines in later-stage testing that need to be kept at temperatures as cold as minus 80 degrees Celsius or minus 112 Fahrenheit.
According to The Wall Street Journal, that’s the same temperature required to store and transport ice cream and steaks to supermarkets across the country. But while medical facilities like hospitals and clinics are expected to be major vaccination sites, few are equipped with these specialized cold storage appliances.
A pair of frontrunner COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, in particular, need ultra-cold storage, according to Fierce Pharma, a trade publication. These drugs rely on gene-based technology called mRNA that requires temperatures of minus 70 to 80 Celsius to remain viable.
United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) is one of the providers who is planning to build so-called "freezer farms" to gear up for the rapid delivery of vaccines.
“The challenge for us will be to be on our ready at any moment to ship from one place to another,” said Wes Wheeler, who is president of the healthcare division of UPS. The company is planning to set up freezer farms to house the vaccines that consist of hundreds of portable freezer units, according to a separate article published in the Journal.
Researchers are investigating whether their drug candidates can be stored and shipped at warmer temperatures, but with the accelerated speed in vaccine development, they don’t have enough information to decipher storage requirements at the present time.
If approved vaccines for COVID-19 do require super cold temperatures, this could put a strain on the supply chain, making it challenging to deliver the drugs to people across the nation.
“You have to target the vaccines to the location where the storage and handling facilities are available,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University according to the Journal.” It may be that every vaccine can’t be used in every location.”
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