Coronavirus vaccines will be delivered from 700 freezers in Antwerp province
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Coronavirus vaccines will be delivered from 700 freezers in Antwerp province

A production line at Pfizer Puurs © Pfizer

As soon as the relevant authorities give the go-ahead, the American pharmaceuticals company Pfizer will begin mass producing the Covid-19 vaccine it is currently testing with the German biotechnology company BioNTech, De Tijd reports.

And when the vaccines are ready to be shipped, the European end of the distribution chain will be some 700 industrial freezers installed in a plant in Puurs, a town of some 16,000 inhabitants about 16km west of Mechelen in Antwerp province.

Puurs is the home of Pfizer Puurs, and the site has been selected by the parent company to be twinned with Kalamazoo in Michigan in the US. Both plants will produce, package and store the millions of vaccines, before shipping them off to medical authorities worldwide.

The logistics are impressive. Between them, the Belgian and US sites will fill 24 lorries a day with about 7.6 million vaccines, stored in specially-designed cool-boxes, no bigger than a suitcase and able to keep a constant temperature of -70°C for up to ten days until the doses are delivered.

“At the moment we have 325 storage freezers to store vaccines until they are shipped in containers with dry ice,” company spokesperson Koen Colpaert told the paper.

“By the beginning of next year there will be about 700, more than twice as many.”

To cope with the massive task, Pfizer Puurs advertised for 150 new staff, and 90% of the vacancies have now been filled. “If the volumes of vaccine increase in the coming months, it’s possible we could take on more people,” Colpaert said.

The shipments will take up 20 aircraft from shipping companies FedEx, UPS and DHL, with a total estimated travel time from factory to vaccination centre of three days. The company estimates it will distribute about 1.3 billion doses next year.

The trials of the new candidate vaccine are now in phase three, involving 43,000 volunteers. Earlier this month Pfizer said it was hoping to obtain authorisation as early as next month from the American Food and Drug Administration under an emergency procedure.

In the meantime, the US has ordered 100 million doses immediately, with an option to take 500 million more. And the European Commission, acting on behalf of member states, has ordered 200 million with an option for 100 million more.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times