MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia plans to produce a form of its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine that can be transported and stored at normal fridge temperatures as opposed to -18 Celsius, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Thursday.
Such a move could help Russia in the global vaccine race by making it cheaper to store and transport Sputnik V, easing the logistical challenges posed by needing a colder supply chain and making it easier for developing nations to handle.
Murashko said one of six of its manufacturers had developed a form of the vaccine that was stable at a temperature of 2-8 Celsius in liquid form, though he gave no timeline for its production.
“The start of Sputnik V’s production with new storage conditions at one of our manufacturing platforms will allow us to expand coverage and increase the availability of the mass vaccination ... for the population,” Murashko said.
Two sources close to the manufacturing process said the variant would be produced by private Russian firm Generium. One source said production would start this quarter and require no significant additional investment.
Generium did not respond to a request for comment.
The issue of storage temperatures is a concern for countries. For example the vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about -70 degrees Celsius before being shipped to distribution centres in cool boxes filled with dry ice.
Alexei Kuznetsov, an aide at the health ministry, said the new form of the Sputnik V can currently be stored for three months, while the frozen vaccine that is kept at -18C has a six-month storage life.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is promoting Sputnik V globally, said delivery logistics was a large cost for the vaccine and that it was a “great plus” to be able to store vaccines at 2-8 Celsius.
He did not say when the new form of the vaccine would be ready for export.
Sputnik V has also been developed in a powder form that can be stored at fridge temperatures, Kirill Dmitriev said earlier.
But two sources familiar with the matter said that production had not yet begun.
Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Additional reporting Polina Ivanova; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Frances Kerry
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