Swiss plan for centres to deliver deep-chilled COVID vaccine

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Pfizer's logo is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - A COVID-19 vaccine like Pfizer and BioNTech's candidate is likely to need centralized vaccination locations, Swiss health experts said on Tuesday, as it must be stored at temperatures matching an Antarctic winter.

U.S.-based Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech said on Monday their mRNA vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective based on initial results, giving global markets an unexpected boost.

However, health experts have cautioned such a vaccine comes with special challenges because the genetic material it consists of must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below.

This could complicate any inoculation programme, particularly in regions such as parts of Asia or Africa where the climate is warm, distances vast and the required infrastructure may be lacking.

The World Health Organization called the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine data "exciting," but said it "presages significant cold chain challenges for African countries".

Thomas Steffen, Basel's cantonal doctor and a board member of the Swiss Doctors Association, said groups considering distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine are working with different scenarios, including for one like Pfizer's.

"We have to have a solution if we need to chill the vaccine to minus 70 degrees, and in that case organise the distribution ... differently than if it were stored at a temperature of a refrigerator," Steffen told a Bern briefing, adding that this was likely to mean using centres.

Switzerland, whose neighbour Germany has already said it is planning centralized inoculation centres, on Tuesday reported nearly 6,000 new coronavirus infections and 107 new deaths.

The Swiss have reserved nearly 10 million doses of vaccine candidates that both AstraZeneca and Moderna are developing, should they pass trials.

And the country is in talks with other manufacturers, including Pfizer and BioNTech, over extra agreements, a Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force member has told Reuters.

(Reporting by John Miller and John Revill in Zurich, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Alexander Smith)