The New York times, ProPublica, and almost every media outlet had articles this week warning about problems with the distribution of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. These problems stem predominantly from the requirements to keep the vaccine at minus 70 degrees centigrade until use.
This concern is not new. The unique storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine have been recognized as an issue since it was initially supported by “Operation Warp Speed.” The government has developed a very aggressive plan for delivering vaccine to the states. However, the concern raised in both the NYT and ProPublica articles involves distribution by the states particularly to rural areas.
Despite this, given the success of the vaccine, I believe that distribution will happen and be effective in getting the vaccine to those that need it the most. There are several reasons for this.
Refrigerated delivery activities by shipping companies have ramped up remarkably. FedEx and UPS both have assured shipping that meets the FDA’s requirements.
Also, while the federal government’s distribution plan is predominantly to deliver to the states which then must distribute locally, the plan also includes logistical support for getting the vaccine distributed once it’s in the states. This was clearly outlined in last week’s “60 minutes” interview with Army General Gus Perna who heads the logistic effort for the military which will be distributing the vaccine.
If need be, large freezers can be transported and semi-trailers, or more likely liquid nitrogen containers, would be used to get the vaccine to communities. While there would need to be organization to assure that individuals would be ready and available to be injected once the vaccine arrived, the value of this should ensure that individuals would be highly motivated to have this happen, especially those at high risk.
Finally, given the success of the mRNA-based Pfizer vaccine, it is highly likely that the Moderna vaccine will also be successful given that it too is an mRNA-based vaccine very similar to the Pfizer formulation. This vaccine has much less stringent refrigeration requirements and should be available for those rural areas were refrigerator transportation is not possible.
While I appreciate that the distribution of these vaccines is a great undertaking, given the value of protecting every American from COVID-19, I have to think that the government won’t allow it to fail.