Now that every American adult is eligible to get vaccinated, vaccine makers are shifting their priorities to meet the changing needs of people will need to be vaccinated in coming months.
On April 29, Pfizer-BioNTech announced that it will begin shipping smaller packages of its COVID-19 by the end of May. Currently, the companies’ vaccine comes in packs of 195 vials, each of which contains about six doses of vaccine, for a total of around 1,100 doses. That size is useful for the mass vaccination centers that have been the focus of the U.S. vaccination program so far, with their goal of immunizing hundreds or even thousands of people a day. But it’s actually prohibitive for smaller doctors’ offices and pharmacies, which might be able to only vaccinate a few dozen people a week, no matter how many doses they have on hand. The company’s new packs will contain three containers of 25 vials each, for a total of 450 doses. The outer shipping container, which can serve as a temporary ultra-cold freezer at temperatures of around -70°C for the vaccine as long as it is replenished with dry ice for up to 30 days, will remain the same.
“We’re hoping this solution will enable channels like doctor’s offices where 1,100 doses may be too much quantity, to have something they can use,” says Tanya Alcorn, vice president of the biopharma global supply chain at Pfizer.
The companies are working on other approaches to making their vaccine more easily distributable. For example, they hope that by the end of this year, they will have a version that won’t require mixing at the vaccination site. Currently, technicians have to mix the doses in the vials with a dilutant; a ready-to-use version of the vaccine could further expand the vaccine’s utility globally in places where such expertise isn’t available.
And like Moderna, which just recently reported it has begun testing a version of its vaccine that doesn’t need to be frozen (and could be stable at refrigerated temperatures for up to three months), Pfizer-BioNTech scientists are developing a version of their vaccine that can be shipped and stored at refrigerated temperatures. Alcorn says those studies are ongoing and if all goes well, the companies may have a vaccine by early next year for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review.