All India Institute of Medical Sciences Director Randeep Guleria on Wednesday that it will be a challenge for countries like India to store and supply American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, which needs to kept at minus 70 degree Celsius, ANI reported.
“We’ll have difficulties in maintaining a cold chain, especially on rural missions,” he was quoted as saying by the news agency. “Overall [it is] encouraging news in vaccine research for those in Phase III trials.”
Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech on Monday announced that their coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective in phase-3 clinical trials. The news had ignited hope, as the world continues efforts to develop a vaccine against the disease.
In an interview to Scroll.in on Tuesday, medical scientist Dr Gagandeep Kang had also spoken about the cost and storage-related challenges of the vaccine. She had said that since Pfizer’s vaccine was an mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine, it would be expensive. Dr Kang added that India currently had no system to deliver a “minus 80 degree Celsius vaccine”.
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T Sundararaman, the coordinator of People’s Health Movement in Delhi, spoke to Bloomberg about the same concerns. “Most of these vaccines need minus 70 degrees, which we just can’t do in India, just forget it,” he told the news network.
Sundararaman added: “Our current cold chains are not able to cope with some districts’ need for measles vaccines, and that’s only for children below the age of 3. That’s a really trivial number of people compared to the numbers that will need a Covid-19 vaccine.”
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, meanwhile, said that the government was in talks with the US-based drug maker, but refused to share further details. “We cannot reveal the specifics of our conversations with Pfizer... when it reaches finality, we will share with you,” he said.
Bhushan added that the national expert group on vaccine administration is in dialogue with all manufacturers, and that India is capable of strengthening its cold chain requirements for the vaccine.
Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna are among the front-runners in the global race to produce a vaccine to fight the infection. Eleven vaccines, including four in the US, are in late-stage trials, according to The New York Times.
India has not yet signed a deal for a coronavirus vaccine so it is unclear when it will be available for use in the country, despite some leaders promising it will be available from as early as January. Availability of the vaccine in India will be subject to approval by domestic regulators, and the Indian government agreeing to purchase them. So far, many other nations including the United States, United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and Israel have made deals to buy millions of doses of the vaccines.