If Pfizer’s vaccine is approved it will ship it from its production plant in Puurs in Belgium in freezer boxes containing 195 vials of the vaccine, each of which holds five doses. Dry ice in the double membrane boxes will keep the vaccine at the required -75C temperature.
Once it has reached Britain, it will be taken by truck to a network of 50 medicine storage warehouses at undisclosed locations which already supply 92% of the country’s drugs and deliver medications daily to 16,500 hospitals, pharmacies and primary care health centres.
Martin Sawer, the executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association, which represents the warehouse owners, said the vaccine will be kept in specially-designed extreme-low temperature freezers acquired by the NHS and lent to warehouses for the duration of the rollout. Once an order is received from vaccination centres, stocks will be moved to “massive fridges the size of small bungalows” to be defrosted over three hours and, once thawed, placed in refrigerated vans immediately for distribution.
The boxes can remain stored at their sub-Arctic temperature for up to six months. But once opened and thawing begins, the NHS will be in a race against time to ensure it is delivered and administered before it expires, to avoid wastage. The government has ordered 40m doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. But with 20m-22m people in 10 priority groups the first to be immunised, and each due to receive two injections three weeks apart, NHS England has told GPs and everyone else involved in giving the jabs that no more than 5% of vaccines must be wasted.