First pictures of UK’s vaccine freezers that will keep Pfizer jab chilled at -70C
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These are the first pictures of the ultra-low temperature freezers that will be packed with the coronavirus vaccine as the NHS prepares to start administering jabs next week.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has passed rigorous safety tests in record time but requires storage at between -70C and -80C so needs to be stored in specialist facilities.
Images from Public Health England (PHE), taken at a secure location, show a row of freezers which can each hold more than 80,000 doses.
PHE says it has secured 58 of the Twin Guard units across the UK with a total capacity for five million doses.
The specialist freezers will store the vaccine at temperatures of between -70C and -80C
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The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday and has ordered 40 million doses after results last month showed it was 95% effective and had been tested on 43,000 people with no safety concerns.
It will be delivered to recipients, beginning with those in care homes, NHS patients and staff and vulnerable age groups and working down a 10 group list until the wider population are eligible, in two jabs three weeks apart.
It is one of three vaccines to publish results so far with the speed of the process, which would usually take several years, put down to the wide sample group available in the midst of a pandemic, the global effort and crucially the fact scientific advancements meant Covid-19's make-up could be mapped extremely quickly.
A row of the ultra-low temperature Twin Guard freezers
The government has also ordered 100 million doses of the two-jab Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which is 70% effective according to studies, a figure which is set to rise to 90% after further work.
The Oxford vaccine does not require ultra-low temperature storage.
The nation is also set to get five million doses of the Moderna vaccine which studies show is 94.5% effective and will be in the country by spring. It is administered in two jabs four weeks apart and only requires storage of -20C.
The vaccine has to be unpacked manually with temperature data downloaded from each box
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Government scientists think the vaccine will give people immunity for 90 days.
In what is being called "one of the greatest challenges the NHS has ever faced" preparations are being finalised to roll out the Pfizer vaccine as early as Tuesday.
The NHS and PHE will adapt tried and tested national immunisation programme models, such as those used for the annual flu jab, to distribute doses across the nation.
Initial volumes of the vaccine arrived in secure locations from Belgium earlier this week.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said after doses arrive a 12- to 24-hour "post-delivery quality assurance process" is conducted using Pfizer's in-transit temperature data to ensure quality and integrity has been maintained during transportation.
The vaccine arrived in the UK earlier this week after being approved for use on Wednesday
The UK has 58 of the ultra-low temperature freezers available
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Boxes containing five packs of 975 doses need to be opened and unpacked manually, and temperature data has to be downloaded from each, the DHSC said.
The packs can only be divided up at licensed facilities.
Once all these steps have been followed the 50 sites currently authorised to deliver jabs can begin ordering in doses which are the defrosted over a few hours and prepared.
Due to complexity involved in transporting and storing doses the vaccine will first be administered from hospital facilities.
The DHSC said more than 1,000 local vaccination centres, operated by groups of GPs, will also come online shortly and these will be increased as more doses come into the country.
"Once we get more vaccine and are able to split the large packs down, we will be able to do both bigger vaccination centres and smaller arrangements through local pharmacies," the DHSC said.