Health Canada allows warmer storage conditions for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine can now be stored and shipped “at standard freezer temperatures” for up to 14 days, Health Canada said in a statement Wednesday.

Pfizer-BioNTech requested the change on Feb. 25 to allow its COVID-19 vaccine to be kept at -25 C and -15 C instead of the earlier approved storage condition of between -80 C and -60 C.

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While Health Canada still endorses ultra-cold storage conditions for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the department “after conducting a thorough review” has “determined that the COVID-19 vaccine remains stable when transported and stored at standard freezer temperatures for up to two weeks.”

“This means the vaccine continues to be safe and effective and meets Health Canada’s quality standards,” according to the statement.

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Following this agreement, vaccine vials stored at -25 C to -15 C for up to two weeks or shipped at -25 C to -15 C “may be returned one time” to the approved storage of -80 C to -60 C.

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The “authorization of this change is consistent with decisions made by other foreign regulators, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” the statement added.

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The decision is expected to facilitate easier handling of the vaccine and more flexible distribution across remote areas of the country.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also approved storage and transportation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at standard freezer temperatures.

Last month, the companies had asked the U.S. health regulator to relax requirements for their COVID-19 vaccine to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, potentially allowing it to be kept in pharmacy freezers.

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“Alternative temperature for transportation and storage will help ease the burden of procuring ultra-low cold storage equipment for vaccination sites and should help to get vaccine to more sites,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

The World Health Organization is also hopeful that such eased requirements could broaden the reach of the Pfizer vaccine.

“We are aware of reports of this and look forward to seeing the data. If proven correct, this could make rollout of the vaccine easier in all countries, and particularly in low-income ones,” it said.

Moderna’s product, which like Pfizer’s is based on so-called messenger RNA molecules, is already cleared for storage at -25 C to -15 C.

–With files from Reuters

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