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Covid-19: First vaccines arrive at Leuven hospital

© Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

The first shipment of the first approved vaccine against Covid-19 has been transported from the factory in Puurs to the university hospital in Leuven.

The shipment consists of 10,000 doses of the vaccine, which was approved by the EU’s medications authority last week, the first and so far only vaccine to be approved for Europe.

The vaccine was developed by the American company Pfizer, and its German partner BioNTech. Supplies for Europe will be furnished from the Pfizer factory in Puurs in Antwerp province.

The rest of the world is supplied by the company’s main plant in Kalamazoo in Michigan in the US.

This first shipment is intended for three destinations, one in each region of the country: the Sint-Pieters care home in Puurs itself, near-neighbours of the factory, Notre Dame de Stockel in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre in Brussels, and La Bonne Maison de Bouzanton in Mons in Wallonia.

But first, the vaccines have to defrost.

The unusual facet of the Pfizer vaccine, compared to others that are being developed or are awaiting approval, is that it has to be kept at a constant temperature of between -60°C and -80°C until it is ready to be used.

The road haulage company H.Essers, based in Genk in Limburg province, has been charged with transporting the vaccines from Puurs to distribution centres designated by all 27 members states of the EU.

Essers has a fleet of 600 lorries, fully equipped with temperature control, fully secure against the criminal interest expected for such a cargo, and equipped with a 24-hour track and trace system that allows each lorry to be located in space at any moment.

The journey from Puurs to Leuven university hospital, which will take care of the transport of the thawed-out vaccines to the final destinations, is a short one. At the same time, shipments have also left Pfizer in Puurs for other destinations, with 19,500 doses arriving today in Paris, in Oss in the Netherlands, and at a depot in Austria.

Everything is ready to go,” said Thomas De Rijdt, head of the hospital pharmacy at Leuven university hospital. “We’re all set.”

The national vaccination campaign in Belgium will begin on Monday 28 December.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times