Pfizer could directly deliver COVID-19 shot to S.Africa vaccination points

Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and sryinge are seen in front of displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken, February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Pfizer said it could deliver its COVID-19 vaccine, which requires ultra-cold temperatures for storage and distribution, directly to points of vaccination in South Africa.

South Africa is scrambling to secure supplies after the AstraZeneca vaccine it planned to use to kick off its immunisation campaign had greatly reduced efficacy against the COVID-19 virus variant now dominant in the country.

Pfizer said it had allocated vaccine doses to South Africa and was currently in discussions with the government.

“We are enabling direct shipment to the point of vaccination in a thermal shipper that will maintain the ultra-low temperature required for up to 10 days unopened,” Pfizer told Reuters in an e-mailed response to questions late on Tuesday.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored and distributed at around -70 degrees Celsius, requiring countries importing it to have ultra-cold chain capabilities.

That is a potential impediment for countries including those in Africa with weak public health systems.

“We have experience in distributing, storing and administering the vaccine in our Phase 3 trial sites around the world (including South Africa) so we already know that the processes we are using work, and patients are able to be dosed at the points of vaccination,” Pfizer said.

South Africa says it has secured 20 million doses from Pfizer, with deliveries starting in the second quarter. It also expects to receive 117,000 Pfizer shots in the first quarter from the COVAX facility co-led by the World Health Organization.

“The supply that will be sent to South Africa and to COVAX is manufactured at our site in Puurs, Belgium,” Pfizer said.

Reporting by Promit Mukherjee. Editing by John Stonestreet and Mark Potter