‘Sophisticated eskies’ could see COVID vaccine delivered by March

Matt Woodley

11/11/2020 5:10:23 PM

Greg Hunt has said the Government’s vaccination timeline is ‘on track’, providing the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate proves to be safe.

Greg Hunt
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia has secured a national cold chain distribution program as part of its agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech. (Image: AAP)

The news comes despite the fact the new mRNA vaccine is yet to be proven safe or complete clinical trials, while concerns have also been raised regarding transportation.
Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine candidate needs to be stored be stored at -70°C, but Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters a new type of ‘sophisticated esky’ should allow Australia to overcome any cold chain challenges.
‘We have secured already a national cold chain distribution program as part of the agreement with Pfizer,’ he said.
‘The world has never had an mRNA vaccine … it’s expected to have a cold chain of -70°C and we have secured that for Australia, well ahead of expectations and on schedule, to deliver vaccines to Australians, commencing in March 2021.
‘Not only are the other two vaccines we have acquired expected to take part in that, but there are additional vaccines from around the world which we are inquiring about using this breakthrough Australian regulatory process.’
The mRNA vaccine uses genetic information to tell the body how to develop an immune response to coronavirus, which comes with the trade-off of needing to be stored at sub-zero temperatures. However, Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) head John Skerritt was able to shed more light on how these challenges will be overcome with the use of specially developed storage containers.
‘They’re very sophisticated eskies which require dry ice. They actually last for 14 days and they can be refilled twice,’ he said, adding that the two refills allowed a month and a half of storage without the need to connect to power.
‘Even in a country the size of Australia you can get anywhere much quicker than that.’
Pfizer/BioNtech developed the suitcase-sized reusable containers and, according to the Wall Street Journal, they can each hold between 1000–5000 doses.
The GPS-tracked boxes should enable the companies to avoid larger, temperature-controlling containers traditionally used for this type of transportation, giving them more flexibility to ship the vaccines faster, as planes and trucks will not have to wait for the standard refrigerated metal boxes.
But while the TGA has given the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca candidates pre-approval provided they meet stringent final checks, Australia may be at the back of a long global queue.
A host of other countries have signed much larger advanced purchase agreements in order to secure access to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with the US, UK, Canada, European Commission (EC) and Japan all sealing deals for a combined 1.2 billion vials before mid-September.
Should the authorisation and approvals process go to plan, the companies aim to supply up to 100 million doses globally by the end of 2020 and approximately only 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
The companies have also reportedly secured agreements with ‘multiple other developed and emerging nations’, and the US, UK and EC countries are all expecting deliveries by the end of the year – and potentially as soon as next month.
Meanwhile, Japan, which signed its agreement in July, is only expected to receive half of its allotted 120 million doses by the end of June.
Pfizer and BioNTech are expected to apply for an emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) once half of the patients enrolled in clinical trials have been observed for any safety issues for at least two months following their second dose, which will then kickstart the regulatory approvals process elsewhere around the world.
The companies expect to pass that mark in the third week of November.
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