KUALA LUMPUR: The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine for Covid-19 requires ultra-cold storage at -70 degrees Celsius (°C) in order to maintain the cold chain delivery for the vaccine to retain its potency when administered.
In comparison, the coldest place on Earth currently is the South Pole in Antarctica, where temperatures are currently sitting around -38°C, while the standard temperature for freezers commonly used in houses is -18°C.
This poses logistical and distribution challenges in a tropical country like Malaysia, thus, the government purchased 55 ultra-low temperature freezers to store the vaccine vials at a cost of RM16.6 million, according to Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
Meteorologist at the National Metrology Institute of Malaysia (NMIM), SIRIM Berhad, Nurulaini Md Ali said the temperature needs to be monitored all the time until the vaccine reaches the recipients as the genetic material in it is extremely sensitive to change and needs to be stored within a strict temperature range, in ultra-cold freezers.
“The cold chain begins at the manufacturing process and right through delivery to the recipient countries, storage centres until administered to those needing the vaccine. It must be ensured that there is no failure (in maintaining the temperature) along the chain,” she said.
She said this in her article titled ‘Memenuhi Keperluan Suhu Penyimpanan Vaksin Covid-19: Cabaran Rantaian Sejuk Beku’ (Meeting Covid-19 Vaccine Storage Temperature Requirements: Cold Chain Challenges) published in the Bernama Tinta Minda section on the Bernama news portal.
She added that for long term storage, the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine must be kept in freezers with the temperature range at -80°C to -70°C while 2⁰C to 8⁰C is the range in preparation for the vaccine to be injected into individuals, and at this stage it can only last five days.
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical partners Pfizer and BioNTech said the companies have conducted a new study that indicates the Covid-19 vaccine can remain effective when stored in standard freezers for up to two weeks.
In a statement posted on Pfizer’s website, the companies said the new data has been submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration, demonstrating their Covid- 19 vaccine is stable when stored at -25°C to -15°C, temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators.
Meanwhile, Malaysia will not encounter difficulties in storing the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Sunday, said Health deputy director-general (Research and Technical Support) Dr Hishamshah Mohd Ibrahim.
He said the Ministry of Health (MOH) is fully prepared for the vaccine distribution and MOH Pharmaceutical Services Division would take care of the logistics and ensure that the vaccines are stored properly.
“MOH’s procurement division has also received supply of 55 freezers to store the vaccines and they have been placed at the vaccine storage centres which have been identified,” he said on Thursday.
Dr Hishamshah said the existing storage boxes with ultra-low temperature have been placed at the MOH vaccine storage and Malaysian Armed Forces facilities and these would be the additional storage space for the vaccines.
Detailed preparations carried out earlier which included dry runs on the delivery of the vaccines to storage facilities and to other states went smoothly, and training was also given to health workers who would be administering the vaccine, he said.
Malaysia will be receiving 312,390 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine Sunday (today), the first delivery to Malaysia, under the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme which will be implemented in phases beginning Feb 26.
The first phase of the programme starts from February to April involving frontline workers, followed by the second phase from April to August for the high-risk groups, namely senior citizens aged 60 and above and vulnerable groups with morbidity problems as well as the disabled.
The third phase from May this year till February next year, involves adults aged 18 and above.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will receive his vaccine shot on the first day of the programme implementation, along with several frontline workers. – Bernama