The ongoing challenge of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. was jolted this week with the arrival of a third vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson’s “one-shot” vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a landmark development that is already changing the logistics of how the vaccine is distributed in the U.S. and the world. The arrival of the new vaccine, along with the announcement from U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer that logistics around its vaccine could be changed, mark a new phase in the fight to distribute the vaccine.
The new vaccine is being produced with the help of the U.S. Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to compel manufacturers to produce higher volumes of a given product in partnership with multiple companies. Already, Johnson & Johnson is adding millions of doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in March alone – a huge achievement that will increase vaccine availability in the U.S.
The vaccine rollout also became more scalable with a recent storage announcement from Pfizer.
Previously, the only two COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. were the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. The logistics of distributing both were complex from the start, leading to slowdowns in vaccine rollout across the country. For starters, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was declared unable to survive at temperatures above ‑76ºF (-60ºC) with ideal storage temperatures between -80ºC and -60ºC (-112ºF to ‑76ºF). This meant that companies transporting this vaccine had to purchase specialized storage containers that allowed the vaccine to survive en route and be safely stored. All doses then had to be used within minutes.
However, last month, Pfizer announced that the vaccine would remain stable if stored at freezer temperatures closer to -25°C to -15°C during transportation, and between 2°C and 8°C (36°F and 46°F) for up to five days after thawed. This announcement means that logistics providers transporting the vaccine no longer need to rely on ultra-cold storage capabilities that generate temperatures colder than Antarctica – a huge turning point. With this announcement, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be distributed to more distribution points throughout the U.S. without heavy investments needed.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine did not require ultra-cold storage during distribution, allowing easier logistics that meant the vaccine was available at many more points-of-distribution than its Pfizer-BioNTech counterpoint.
Taken together, these two developments will hopefully allow for a “return to normal” sooner than later.