Although Pfizer recently announced its intention to apply for emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine, the need for dry ice when transporting and storing it presents a problem for distributing doses to rural areas.
Tanya Alcorn, the vice president of Pfizer’s BioPharma Global Supply Chain, told CBS News on Friday that that greatest hurdle for distributing the vaccine is “doing so much in parallel,” when it comes to shipping doses from manufacturing facilities to large-scale freezers in various states, which are then shipped to vaccination sites all over the country.
The vaccine has to remain around 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, according to Alcorn, who said that Pfizer has created its own “thermal shipper,” which is roughly the size of a suitcase and holds about 1,000 vaccine doses at minimum.
She added that “there’s dry ice that goes around it. And then it has actually a device within it that has a continuous GPS and temperature monitor. So we will be able to have continuous eyes on every shipper.”
Tim Size, the executive director of an organization that represents dozens of rural hospitals in Wisconsin, told CBS that the method of shipping vaccine doses is “a problem,” because “If you can ship 1,000, you can ship 200. It’s more expensive,” and “more cumbersome.”
He also pointed out that freezers that can reach the temperatures required for the vaccine to last longer are too expensive for most hospitals in rural areas.
“We have a tremendous need to bridge rural America back together in our country. If basically rural’s getting the message, ‘We’ll start with urban,’ even if it’s for reasonable logistical reasons, it’s bad optics,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants to give a message that rural Wisconsin or rural America is second class.”