Posted on: 12/11/20

As Pfizer announced successful results from its phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial, countries around the world are preparing for one of the most complicated cold chain logistics challenges they have ever faced; rapidly distributing a vaccine that must be stored at -70c.

Found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, it is likely we will see Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorisation approved by December, which means preparations must take place now to avoid delays in rolling out this vital vaccine.  

What current challenges do we face with the Pfizer vaccine?

Due to its sub-zero storage requirements, distributing the Pfizer vaccine will pose many challenges for healthcare services across the UK.

Companies and organisations operating within the biopharma cold chain are likely to already be accustomed to frozen or even cryogenic conditions, in particular, those working on new cellular and genetic therapies.

However, local pharmacies and smaller hospitals/health centres may not be prepared to store such a vaccine. This could cause major problems in distributing the vaccine across the country and ensuring it is stored properly until it reaches the most vulnerable in society.

To help, Pfizer has developed reusable boxes, the size of a suitcase, which can be packed with dry ice and safely store up to 5,000 doses of the vaccine for 10 days.

Despite Pfizer’s solution for transporting the vaccine, hospitals, health centres and pharmacies may need to store the vaccine for more than 10 days. Once thawed, the vaccine can only survive for a further five days at fridge temperatures of 2-8C. This doesn’t give a great deal of time. As a result, Public Health England (PHE) has said that ‘national preparations’ are underway regarding the central storage of the vaccine; however, no details have been made public yet.

Why do vaccines need to be stored at sub-zero temperatures?

The Pfizer vaccine is based on messenger-RNA (mRNA) technology which is essentially a free-floating snippet of ribonucleic acid that can elicit an immune response in the body. The standard method for storing and preserving RNA has always been at ultra-low temperatures. Therefore, to ensure the quality of the RNA and efficacy of the vaccine, Pfizer’s solution must be kept below -70c.

What role does Contronics play in the cold chain?

As the NHS and other healthcare organisations across the UK prepare to take delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, it is paramount that the correct infrastructure is in place to ensure they are protected and stored at the correct temperature. This is where we step in!

For over 25 years, Contronics has provided world-leading laboratory temperature monitoring systems to help NHS, healthcare and life science organisations deal with long-term storage. With systems capable of measuring temperatures from -200 to 200°C and UKAS accredited, ISO 17025 calibration and temperature mapping services, we ensure regulatory compliance is always met to protect valuable assets and samples.

For more information on our solutions and to discuss a personalised system for your organisation, please contact our sales team at or call us on 01260 298 383.