On Oct. 29, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. This so-called interim playbook is designed to guide states and local public health officials on how to effectively plan and operationalize their vaccination response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in a manner that keeps those most at risk safe and helps restore the functioning of our society as we know it.

While the CDC’s vaccine distribution playbook is quite comprehensive in nature — you can read it in its entirety here — we wanted to share some of the key highlights from our perspective.

Let’s Begin With Some of the General Highlights

  • The federal government will pay for all vaccines. There is no charge for any individual who receives the vaccine.
  • There are two leading vaccine candidates, identified as “A” (from Pfizer) and “B” (from Moderna). More vaccines are in development and testing, but they will be available after these initial two.
  • Vaccine “A” is expected to be available very soon — about 4 to 6 months before vaccine “B”. As a result, “A” will be used initially for higher priority candidates (e.g., vaccine providers, healthcare providers, other essential workers).

Now Let’s Dive Deeper Into the Details of Each Vaccine’s Distribution

Vaccine “A”

As documented in the CDC’s vaccine distribution playbook, Vaccine “A” requires two separate injections, about three weeks apart. This means that the total number of dosages available (tens of millions by early 2021) will be used on half that number of people.

To preserve the integrity of the vaccine, “A” must be stored at -80°C. Once it is thawed, it must be stored in a refrigerator at +4°C, and then used within 120 hours (5 days), or be discarded.

To this end, the plan is to ship “A” in thermally insulated, reusable boxes — with about 1,000 doses in each box, surrounded by pelletized dry ice to maintain proper storage temperature in transit. Vials will contain 2mL, with 5 doses per vial. 195 vials will be in each of the five trays that are 9” x 9” x 1.6” (similar to the size of a small pizza box) and fit into the insulated shipping container, which is 15.75” x 15.75” x 22”.

Dry ice is frozen CO2, which maintains a temperature of -79.5°C. Dry ice sublimates to CO2 over time, so it needs to be replaced every few days if kept in an insulated cooler. In light of this, once delivered to an inoculation center, the container with the vaccines needs to be replenished with approximately 23 kg of dry ice, and then replenished again every five days until the vaccine is used. The vaccine should not be kept onsite for more than 15 days, and it needs to be moved to refrigerators no later than by Day 15 of its arrival.

Once onsite, the container’s internal temperature must be monitored to ensure the temperature is staying close to -79.5°C. The CDC is also thinking of monitoring the temperature inside the container while in transit to the distribution site, but no decisions have been made at this time.

Vaccine “B”

In contrast to “A”, vaccine “B” needs to be stored at -20°C — a standard freezer temperature that mimics that of the freezer in your home. As suggested by this comparison, such freezers are much more commonly available, so the distribution of “B” will be much simpler than for “A.”

Vaccine “B” is not expected to be available until about April. This means that “A” will be the only vaccine available for several months, and as mentioned above, will be administered to the highest priority recipients for the first several months. Then, when “B” is also available, more and more people will be able to get vaccine inoculations.

Per the CDC playbook, the CDC’s vaccine distribution plan is to ship “B” to distribution centers with -20°C freezers, and then the vaccine will be shipped to vaccine providers (e.g., hospitals, clinics, drug stores), who also need to store the vaccine at -20°C. Vaccine “B” should be thawed and used within seven days of receipt by the vaccine provider. After two hours of thawing, “B” must be stored in a refrigerator (+4°C) and should be administered within six hours of thawing.

Don’t Just Read About Distribution Efforts, Hear About Them Too

On Sunday, Nov. 8, CBS’s 60 Minutes featured a segment on the general that heads up Project Warp Speed — the COVID vaccine distribution effort striving to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe, effective vaccines, with the initial doses made available by January 2021.

In case you didn’t have a chance to see the televised segment, you can tune into it here.

Real-Time Temperature Monitoring for Stored COVID-19 Vaccines

CORIS provides temperature monitoring systems for -80°C, -20°C and +4°C freezers and refrigerators, and has teamed up with freezer manufacturers to incorporate CORIS temperature monitors into the actual freezers and refrigerators. Please contact us if you are in need of a temperature-monitored freezer or refrigerator to store COVID-19 vaccines.

We also encourage you to visit the website for the COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund (CETF). While we wait for COVID vaccines to be developed and mass produced, the CETF aims to conduct clinical trials to identify existing drugs (or drug combinations) that can expedite the fight against COVID-19. We value their efforts toward finding meaningful treatments fast.

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