OAKLAND, Calif. - As the pandemic drags on with record-setting deaths, daily new cases at an all-time high, and ICU capacity stretched thin, there's no time to waste in distributing a COVID-19 vaccine.
Various COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, and will attack coronavirus in different ways. The first wave of vaccines require super cold temperatures for storage and shipment worldwide.
Pfizer's scientists say its 95% effective COVID-19 vaccine must be shipped and stored minus at 70 degrees Celsius; that's 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
The shipping can be done in dry ice, frozen carbon dioxide, the stuff used in some theatrical fog machines and in exotic drinks that give off what looks like stream.
Pfizer claims it has designed dry ice packaging that will safely store the vaccine for several weeks.
Moderna's vaccine requires a less cold, but still a cold 4 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
That because the medicine that does the scientific magic need to be frozen solid until use. "RNA molecules are highly unstable," said Dr. Lee Riley, UC Berkeley's Chair of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology.
Riley says though other vaccines will require little or no refrigeration, we need to get vaccinations under way now. "We have these highly effective vaccines, both of equal efficacy. Vaccine delivery is always hard, no matter what the vaccine is," said Riley.
This is on an unheard of scale. "We've never tried to handle a global pandemic in quite this way before," said Dr. Margaret Liu, Chairperson for the International Society for Vaccines.
Once the vaccine gets to administration sites, cold must be scrupulously maintained to maintain vaccine potency. "You can't just keep opening up the same container and pulling out vials and closing it because every time you open it, you then exposure whatever is in that container to your room temperature," said Liu.
Nonetheless, Africa's Ebola outbreak, six years ago, was defeated using cold vaccines in a hot often impassable environment. "That was a challenge but it still was relatively confined compare to thinking about immunizing everyone in the globe," said Dr. Liu.
Lufthansa, the German cargo airline, says it's ready to begin shipping right now.
FedEx, another major vaccine carrier, declined to comment on what they are doing or why it's marshaling refrigerator trucks at Oakland and other airports.