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Pfizer’s Covid Vaccine Still A Distant Dream As India Lacks Logistics

Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, according to reports, needs to be stored and transported under temperatures below negative 70 or 80 degrees Celsius.

Global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, according to some reports, is currently in talks with the Indian government to bring its ‘BNT16b2’ COVID-19 vaccine to India. Developed in collaboration with German firm BioNTech, the vaccine made headlines earlier this week when researchers announced that interim analyses showed that it had a 90% efficacy rate.

Pfizer’s analysis was based on 94 cases of the disease that occurred across participants receiving either the vaccine or a placebo. The pharma giant has since noted that it at least needs 164 cases of the disease to take place across the study, to reliably determine the vaccine’s true efficacy. Though approval challenges remain to be met, Pfizer has stated that it expects to have 50 million doses of the vaccine ready this year alone – enough to treat 25 million people – and 1.3 billion doses by the end of next year.

Though the news of breakthrough for Pfizer is remarkable and has garnered attention from all over the world, there are however significant challenges that remain especially with regard to vaccine distribution within India. It will be the first-ever vaccine developed on the messenger RNA platform if the vaccine gets approval. Putting the pricing prospects aside, Pfizer still expects a single dose of the vaccine to be pegged ar roughly $19.5 dollars. Cold chain infrastructure of India may require complete reimagining if it is to safely store and transport the vaccine.

Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, according to reports, needs to be stored and transported under temperatures below negative 70 or 80 degrees Celsius. The vaccine, under normal refrigeration conditions, is likely to spoil within 24 and 48 hours.

The viability of Pfizer’s vaccine for a nation like India is thus questionable. According to some reports, the government has planned to distribute the first few batches of vaccines under its Universal Immunisation Programme. However, all 27,000 cold chain facilities under the UIP are only capable of achieving temperatures no less than -30 degrees Celsius. The same is true even of privately owned cold chain facilities.

In the wake of the urgency, the focus should be on structuring a well-defined strategy, that includes private enterprises, to augment India’s cold chain capacity such that it is able to address the concerns related to logistical and transportation obstacles.

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