Frontrunner Pfizer Begins to Export mRNA Vaccine

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Recent data from Phase 3 Pfizer vaccine trials have concluded that the vaccine is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19. Efficiency was consistent across age, race, and ethnicity demographics. As Pfizer filed its COVID-19 vaccine for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., said Pfizer now has the median two-month follow-up data needed to secure EUA from the FDA, which puts it a step closer to bringing its vaccine to the market in the United States.

Based on current projections, the company expects to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses globally this year and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

Pfizer has designed the mRNA vaccine with technology that can be easily adapted and modified quickly which helps address new mutations of the virus. Because this technology does not include the pathogen, a microorganism that causes a disease, but instead utilizes the pathogen’s genetic code, they can potentially modify the vaccine candidate’s genetic code to address any changes in the virus. Essentially, the vaccine would be using the structure of the virus’ pathogen to examine the genetic code and track changes in the genetic makeup. This would account for mutations that need further medication to prevent, and help with what changes are needed in the vaccine.

However, an issue was identified earlier this month. The vaccine candidate comes with a significant complication that could delay its distribution in rural areas and developing countries: it must be stored at a temperature of negative 70°C. That means the vaccine must be kept in specialized freezers that cost as much as $20,000 each and are rarely found outside medical research facilities.

Experts say that “the vaccine’s cold storage requirements may become less stringent as more is learned about how the vaccine reacts to warmer temperatures.”

Tinglong Dai, a medical logistics specialist at Johns Hopkins University, says he wouldn’t be surprised if Pfizer eventually revises its vaccine’s storage requirements. With the current storage requirements, “they’re being more cautious,” Dai told Fortune reporters.

Pfizer has developed a shipping container that maintains a negative 70° C for up to 10 days if unopened to help with distributing their vaccine. With regular refills of dry ice, it can maintain that temperature for up to 30 days. But using shipping containers for storage is risky. “Every time you put new dry ice in is an opportunity for mistakes,” Dai said.

However, Pfizer did confirm that they are working on a more durable version of the vaccine that is “lyophilized” or freeze-dried. That vaccine, the company said, would be able to be kept at normal refrigerator temperatures and may be ready by 2022. The Food and Drug Administration would have to approve the updated vaccine following additional trials.

Although this vaccine is less “sturdy” and “predictable,” it has been proven to protect against COVID-19 and will be available sooner; this is why it is currently in the global spotlight.

On Nov. 27, United Airlines began flying Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine into position, in anticipation of approval by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators. The agency told the paper it would allow United to fly five times more dry ice than is usually permitted — 15,000 pounds per flight — to keep the vaccine at the chilled temperature it needs to prevent spoiling.

The first approvals for the Pfizer vaccine are expected to come from Europe, including in the United Kingdom. The pharmaceutical company sought emergency FDA approval, due to the extreme COVID-19 situation, on Nov. 20.

As other companies develop vaccine candidates, the Pfizer vaccine may only be one of many distributed across the world.

Through Teen Lenses: Have you heard about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine? What are your opinions on this vaccine, compared to the numerous others in production right now?

“The Pfizer vaccine has been all over the news recently. I think it’ll be one of the more successful vaccines in the near future. I remember hearing that this company was one of the first to begin Phase 3 trials. They seem to know what they’re doing.” Ridhi Pendyala, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Centreville, Virginia
“I have heard of the Pfizer company. I don’t know a lot about what they’re currently doing, but I do know that they were ahead of a lot of other vaccine contenders in summer, so I assume they’d be producing vaccines by now.” Harini Ramaswamy, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Arlington, Virginia
“Yes, I have heard of Pfizer. They’ve been in headlines in the last week because I believe that they started transporting their vaccine contender. I don’t know much about if it is successful, but I hope it’s easy to produce and distribute because this could bring society back to normal.” Megan Enochs, 15, Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax, Virginia