Pfizer Inc said it is working on a new form of its experimental coronavirus vaccine that can be stored in the refrigerator.
Currently, the vials, which use messenger RNA – or part of the virus’s genetic code – have to be stored between -94F (-70C) and -112F (-80C).
In an event held by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, on Tuesday, CEO Albert Bourla are developing a vaccine that does not need to be kept at freezing temperatures.
‘We are working also on a new formulation that will be able to avoid the -70 and can be stored in simple refrigeration,’ he said.
However, he said he is confident the firm, along with its German partner BioNTech SE, will be able to distribute 50 million doses by the end of the year and 1.3 billion in 2021.
Bourla also urged Americans to get vaccinated and ‘not become the weak link that lets the virus spread.’
It comes as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted an analysis of clinical trial data on Tuesday that confirmed the Pfizer vaccine meets all safety and efficacy requirements and as Great Britain became the first country to use the jab with its oldest citizens receiving the first shots.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla spoke at an event held by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations on Tuesday (above)
The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and it’s German partner BioNTech SE currently has to be stored at -94F (-70C). Pictured: A handout provided by Pfizer shows a ‘freezer farm,’ a facility for storing finished COVID-19 vaccines, in Puurs, Belgium, October 2020
Scientists are currently working on a new formulation of the jab that can be kept in a refrigerator for several months. Pictured: A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, Yorkshire, December 8
Bourla explained that engineers at Pfizer have developed special boxes to ship the vaccine at extreme temperatures once it is approved and shipped from Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The isothermic boxes with dry ice have a GPS inside each one as well as a meter so, at any point in time, it can be determined where the box is and what the temperature is.
Bourla says this allows the vials to be shipped via any method of transportation including trucks, airplanes and boats.
UPS will be the main distributor, but FedEx will also ship the vaccines to destinations around the country.
‘Clearly to have something that requires -70, which is not something usual, it is an additional challenge,’ he said.
‘I feel very comfortable about our ability to distribute the product at -70 right now.
‘I think everybody will see pretty soon that this is not a challenge, at least in countries that there’s basic infrastructure like a road, for example, or a place to store things.’
Pfizer has three options for storage. The first are ultra-low temperature freezers that can keep the vaccine at -70C for up to six months.
The second option is to keep the vials in temperature-controlled thermal shippers which can hold the vaccine for 10 days unopened.
After being opened, they can be used for 30 days as long as dry ice is added every five days.
Lastly, the vaccine can be stored in refrigerators for five days between 35.6F (2C) and 36.4 (8C).
Reformulating the vaccine will allow vials to be stored in refrigerators for several months, which is faster, cheaper and more efficient than the current model.
Bourla was asked about hesitancy to receive the vaccine, and he reiterated that the development and testing process have not cut any safety corners.
He also said that he believes people ‘are confused’ and ‘don’t know who to believe’ due to politicization of the jab, particularly in the US.
It comes as the UK became the first country in the world to start vaccinating patients with Pfizer’s jab. Pictured: Margaret Keenan (left), 90, is the first patient in the UK and the world to receive the Pfizee COVID-19 at University Hospital, Coventry, Britain, December 9
Bourla also warned Americans to not be hesitant about getting vaccinated so they don’t ‘become the weak link’ that allows COVID-19 to replicate and spread. Pictured: William ‘Bill’ Shakespeare is the second person to receive the vaccine at University Hospital, Coventry, December 8
However, he warned that not getting vaccinated will severely impede efforts to curb the pandemic.
‘I understand their concerns, but they need to think twice because the decision to vaccinate or not is not affecting only your health, it is affecting the health of others, and likely people that you love and you meet frequently with,’ Bourla said.
‘Because if you do not vaccinate, you are becoming the weak link that will allow the virus to replicate’ and spread.
The FDA’s advisory committee is meeting on December 10 to decide whether or not to recommend the approval of Pfizer’s jab.
‘I expect a very intense meeting with the advisory committee. These are experts. They will ask a lot of questions. We have have answers, we believe, to every question that they will ask,’ Bourla said.
‘I think they will vote ‘yes’, based on the strength of the data. And then it’s up to FDA to conclude the process and give us the license. They need to take as much as time as they need to feel comfortable.’
He added that, once the vaccine does receive FDA approval, it is important that people get two doses to receive full protection.
‘This is a two-dose vaccine, so people need to take two doses to be able to feel confident that they’re protected at 95 percent – 95 percent chance of being protected,’ Bourla said.
‘At the dose one, it’s around 50 percent, something like that.’
He said that while it helps to have some type of immunity after the first shot, the immune response is only complete after two doses.
‘Again, I say, it’s a very big mistake if anyone tries to do it with only one dose when…with two, you almost double the protection.’
It comes at the UK became the first country in the world to begin vaccinating with Pfizer’s jab with least 5,000 people are expected to be inoculated on Tuesday.
Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, was the first person ever to receive the jab at around 6.30am GMT.
She called it since ‘the best early birthday present I could wish for’ after self-isolating since March.
The second person to receive the shot was 81-year-old William Shakespeare who joked that him being vaccinated was ‘much ado about nothing’.