The announcement made by Pfizer and BioNTech, that vaccine to fight deadly Covid19 vaccine has been successfully developed is a welcome news that brings joy on the faces of millions and millions of people across the globe whose life has remained under severe threat for nearly a year now. According to the developers of the vaccine can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19, a preliminary analysis shows. Their vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised. However this does not end the agonising story. There are
huge challenges ahead, but the announcement has been warmly welcomed with scientists describing themselves smiling “ear to ear” and some suggesting life could be back to normal by spring. The two companies say they will be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. Each person needs two doses. Not everyone will get the vaccine straight away and countries are each deciding who should be prioritised. Hospital staff and care home workers will be near the top of every list because of the vulnerable people they work with, as will the elderly who are most at risk of severe disease. People under 50 and with no medical problems are likely to be last in the queue. Then there are other questions that are still to be answered. One does not know if the vaccine stops the spread of the virus or just from developing symptoms. Or if it works equally well in high-risk elderly people. And the biggest question – how long does immunity last – will take months or potentially years to answer. There are also massive manufacturing and logistical challenges in immunising huge numbers of people, as the vaccine has to be kept in ultra-cold storage at below minus 80C.
Since different Covid-19 vaccines require different temperatures and different handling procedures, cold chain facilities, including equipment and procedures used in transport and storage, are a critical aspect before they are eventually administered to the masses. For example, some of the vaccines undergoing phase III trials now must be stored at temperatures as cold as minus 94 degrees Celsius.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ‘cold chain’ is a system of storing and transporting vaccines at recommended temperatures from the point of manufacture to the point of use. Thus, a cold chain involves three major components of infrastructure: planes, trucks and cold storage warehouses. Without a proper cold chain facility, vaccines face the risk of being exposed to temperatures outside the recommended range, resulting in reduction of potency and wastage.
With hospitals expected to be the initial sites where the first vaccines would be administered, several of them lack ultracold freezers since most drugs and vaccines don’t need them. The chickenpox vaccine is one of the few shots that needs to be stored frozen while flu vaccines require only refrigeration. According to the Lancet, the world is capable of producing and distributing around 6.4 billion flu vaccines annually currently while experts have predicted that around nine billion Covid-19 vaccines would be produced in 2021. Thus, without robust cold chain facilities, distributing these vaccines, in addition to the regular ones required, would not be possible. According to one of the top health experts of the country and AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria, if all things go as planned, the vaccine could be available in the market by early next year. id However, he said the initial availability of doses will not be enough for the entire population in the country. And till then we all shall have to maintain Covid-19 protocols like wearing masks, follow social distancing rules and added that people have a major role to play in reducing the impact of the virus.