A patient participates in Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine on May 4 in Baltimore, Maryland. 
A patient participates in Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine on May 4 in Baltimore, Maryland.  University of Maryland School of Medicine/AP

State health officials in the US have told CNN that they are feeling “overwhelmed” and “daunted” at the prospect of distributing Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, should it become widely available soon.

On Monday, Pfizer announced that early data from its Phase 3 trial showed its vaccine was more than 90% effective. The drug giant could apply for authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as early as this month. 

The vaccine’s handling requirements are stringent — it has to be stored at about minus-75 degrees Celsius (minus-103 Fahrenheit), more than 50 degrees Celsius lower than any other vaccine currently on the market in the US.

The required conditions are far colder than the temperatures in freezers kept in doctors’ offices, pharmacies and public health clinics.

Molly Howell, who’s in charge of the immunization program in North Dakota, said she felt “overwhelmed” and “daunted” while watching a webinar last month on how to distribute Pfizer’s vaccine. 

“How are we going to do this?” she texted a colleague who was also on the webinar. 

Her colleague responded with an exploding head emoji.

Pfizer has offered “thermal shippers” about the size of a suitcase to keep the vaccine cold. They’re only temporary, and need to be replenished with dry ice every five days. 

“It would be hard to with a straight face say, ‘Oh, we’re all set,’” said Christine Finley, Vermont’s immunization program manager. 

“[This] equals a challenge I don’t think we’ve ever seen before.” 

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