Extreme cold required to store Pfizer's COVID vaccine a challenge for India

The Pfizer logo is seen at their UK commercial headquarters in Walton Oaks, Britain, November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

New Delhi: The extreme low temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius required for storing a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer poses a big challenge for its delivery in a developing nation like India, especially in its smaller towns and rural areas where maintaining such cold chain facilities would be very difficult, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria said on Wednesday.

Most vaccines in India need to be stored at a temperature of two to eight degrees Celsius. The lowest minimum temperature at which vaccines can be kept to maintain the cold chain in most areas in the country is minus 25 degrees Celsius, Guleria said.

He, however, said the first set of results announced by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SEfrom the Phase 3 vaccine trial, showing a 90-per cent efficacy in preventing the coronavirus infection, is quite encouraging.

"The extreme low temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius required for the potential anti-coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer poses a big challenge for its delivery in a developing nation like India.

"Storing vaccines at such a low temperature and maintaining such cold chains in smaller towns and cities is going to be very difficult," Guleria said.

He stressed that the data released by the firms developing vaccines has to be studied and it has to be seen how long the immunity would last.

About the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Delhi, Guleria said festivities or heavily crowded marketplaces may have acted as "superspreader spots" and stressed on the need to remain vigilant and follow COVID-appropriate behaviour such as wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, respiratory etiquette and hang hygiene diligently.

Delhi recorded its sharpest single-day spike of 7,830 fresh COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, which took the national capital's infection tally to over 4.5 lakh.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE on Monday said their vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19.

"Today is a great day for science and humanity. The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine's ability to prevent COVID-19," Pfizer chairman and CEOAlbert Bourla said.

Asked if India was considering a tie-up with Pfizer for its COVID-19 vaccine and whether the country has the infrastructure for the specialised cold chain requirement for this vaccine, the health ministry on Tuesday said the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19 is in talks with all the vaccine manufacturers, including domestic and foreign ones.

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