On Monday (November 9), the world breathed a sigh of relief when it awoke to news that Pfizer and German biotechnology firm BioNTech have developed a coronavirus vaccine that was 90 per cent effective at preventing infection.
All over the world, governments lauded the development as encouraging and were no doubt anxious to get their hands on the vaccine for their populations.
But this may not happen as quickly as they hoped. You see, Pfizer can manufacture only a limited quantity of the vaccine next year – about 1.3 billion doses. And US, UK, EU, Canada, and Japan have already claimed 80 per cent of that supply through some advanced purchasing agreement.
This means that these five countries already have dibs on 1.1 billion of the 1.3 billion doses that Pfizer can manufacture next year.
And even if Pfizer could manufacture more doses, according to Rachael Silverman from the nonprofit Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., it probably won’t work in many parts of the world.
“It needs to be maintained, stored, and transported at extraordinarily low temperatures,” Silverman says. “And when I say extraordinarily low I mean, minus 80 degrees Celsius.”
That’s equivalent to minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit – and much, much colder than a typical freezer, which runs at about 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nonetheless, Silverman told NPR news agency that the development of one vaccine means that there will be more to come.
“The effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine is a good sign that other vaccines will also be effective,” Silverman says. And hopefully, a few of those vaccines will be easy to store and transport as well.