The COVID-19 pandemic that has all but ruled our lives for the last nine months looks to finally be on its way out. The best thing to come out of this trying year might be the breakthrough discovery of a vaccination that can protect you from getting COVID-19. The hope is that with this vaccine, we might soon be able to get back to living in the world as we once knew it.
The big question on everyone’s mind is: “When will I be getting the vaccine?”
Well, it’s not as simple as just dropping in to your local doctor’s office for your jab. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine only works if it is stored at an arctic-like temperature of about -70° C (-94° F). It also has to remain frozen during shipping and can then be stored in dry ice for up to 25 days, with the dry ice needing to be replaced after 15 days. After that, the shots can last for five days in standard refrigeration.
Another logistical nightmare facing medical personnel is that each of the boxes containing the vaccines contains up to 1,000 vaccine vials, and each of these vials in turn contains five doses of the shot. This means that it’s likely that some of the doses will start to defrost before they can be used, rendering them useless.
Let’s take a look at the vaccination rollout plans from the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom:
Pfizer and Moderna plan to have 40 million doses ready for the US by the end of December, with each vaccine needing two doses. While this is a promising start, when we look at the total US population of more than 300 million people, we need to realize that vaccinating Americans is going to be a lengthy and involved process. A lot will depend on how many vaccines get approved, the speed at which the vaccines can be manufactured and distributed, and the governmental decisions about allocation.
What we do know is that if the US acts on the recommendation of its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP), frontline health care workers, support staff, and residents of long-term care facilities will be first in line to receive their shots.
Just a few short days ago, EU regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is excellent news for all of the EU’s 27 member countries (and its 450 million people). In fact, the first vaccines have already been given in Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Spain, with the elderly receiving their first of the two necessary shots. EU countries will work together in a coordinated effort to ensure that its residents have access to the vaccine.
The UK regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 2, with vaccines for the elderly and healthcare workers beginning just a week later. The UK has been one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic and in light of this, the British government is embarking on a mass vaccination program for its residents.
Britain has purchased enough of the Pfizer vaccine to vaccinate 20 million people. However, it’s important to note that Pfizer won’t ship all of the vaccines at once, rather their delivery will be staggered, and they expect to provide all of the vaccines by the end of 2021.
The good news is that hope is most definitely on the horizon. The bad news is that with millions of people needing vaccinations and with the vaccination itself being subject to rigorous storage requirements (and all of the logistics that this entails), if you are not either a healthcare worker, frontline worker, or an elderly person living in a care home, it’s likely going to be a few long months before you get your vaccine.
Unfortunately, this means that the world is not going back to normal yet and that good hygiene practices such as wearing masks, social distancing as much as possible, frequent hand washing, and sanitizing are going to be with us for the next few months at the very least.
- Business Insider: Vulnerable Brits can now get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from their family doctor
- CNN: Supply issues hampering Pfizer providing additional vaccine faster
- Science News: Here’s why COVID-19 vaccines like Pfizer’s need to be kept so cold
- Pfizer: Manufacturing and Distributing the COVID-19 Vaccine
- CNBC: A 90-year-old woman gets first Covid vaccine in UK, as massive rollout begins
- BBC: Covid-19: Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine judged safe for use in UK
- Scientific American: The COVID Cold Chain: How a Vaccine Will Get to You
- BBC: Covid vaccine: When will Americans be vaccinated?
- NYT: The E.U.’s vaccinations are set to begin Sunday, but a few places have jumped the gun.
- TheJoiurnal.ie: Mass vaccination programme against Covid-19 begins across multiple European nations
- Bloomberg: Vaccine D-Day Begins With Rollout of First 2.9 Million Doses