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COVID-19 Vaccine: How exactly does the cold supply chain work? | Science & Tech News

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COVID-19 Vaccine: How exactly does the cold supply chain work? | Science & Tech News

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in the UK is manufactured in Belgium and needs to be stored at -70C (-94F) to avoid spoiling before it is administered.

The government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has confirmed its priority list for the first phase of the UK’s mass vaccine rollout, which will begin early next week.

These vaccines will need to be transported from Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Belgium to some of the most distant parts of the British Isles, including the Isle of Arran. Here’s how that will work:

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Step 1: Manufacturing

The vaccines destined for the UK are manufactured in Belgium.

They’re produced in vials which contain about five doses each, diluted with standard pharmaceutical-grade saline solution.

The vials are placed in trays of around 100, and these trays are stacked in bespoke freezer boxers which are colloquially known as “shippers”.

Because the vaccines are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules enveloped in a lipid nanoparticle – something that is very easily destroyed – they need to be stored at a very cold temperature to prevent them from degrading.

Due to the sensitivity of the vaccine, the boxes are all temperature controlled and contain trackers which send minute-by-minute information on the temperature of the box.

This is similar to the way food is prevented from going bad by being kept in the freezer, it prevents the chemical reactions which would cause the molecule to effectively decompose.

The freezer boxes are specially designed to do this for the vaccines, and can hold between 1,000 and 5,000 doses each, with dry ice being used in insulated wall panels to keep the interiors of the boxes cold.

Step 2: Moving the boxes to storage

The pre-packed boxes can then be shipped by refrigerated lorry or plane to a centralised depot in the UK where the batches can be tested for quality control purposes.

Once the vaccine batches are approved they will be moved to storage freezers, where they can be kept for months as long as the temperature is maintained at -70C.

The next steps – once the vaccines are on the road to being administered – are the most time sensitive and challenging logistically.

Step 3: Preparing for distribution

From the centralised depot in the UK, the vaccines will be delivered to 50 hospital hubs around the UK.

Storage at -70C is only necessary in the case of long-term storage, a matter of months, and isn’t necessary at vaccination centres

Once stored in boxes and regular fridges, the vaccine can last for over 30 days if the ice is being replaced, and five days otherwise.

These hubs will allocate the vaccine to the local areas that need it according to the government’s priority list.

Step 4: Distributing the vaccine

Finally, the vaccine needs to be defrosted before it can be used, which takes several hours, and then additional time is needed to prepare the vaccine for being administered.

The vaccine is administered as a normal intramuscular injection in the arm.

Considering the case of satellite centres, such as care homes, where it will be more feasible to transport the vaccine to the centre rather than bring the patients in, it will be possible to take the vials in a cold transport (2-8C) where they can be administered to residents.

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How BioNTech developed their vaccine

This must be done within six hours.

The storage requirements have prompted concerns from Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething, who said the Pfizer vaccine “cannot” be delivered to care homes at this stage, despite them being prioritised for receiving the jab.

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WhatsApp delays launch of business feature after privacy backlash | Science & Tech News

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WhatsApp delays launch of business feature after privacy backlash | Science & Tech News

WhatsApp is delaying the rollout of new business features following a user backlash over the company’s data sharing practices.

The delay is a setback for its plan to generate revenue by facilitating commercial exchanges on the messaging app, which Facebook acquired for $19bn in 2014 but has been slow to monetise.

WhatsApp has said users will no longer have to review and accept its updated terms by 8 February – and no accounts will be suspended or deleted by that date.

Privacy advocates have jumped on the WhatsApp changes, pointing to what they say is Facebook’s poor track record of supporting consumer interests when handling their data.

Many have suggested users would migrate to other platforms, and rival app Signal surged up the App Store charts on iPhone and the Google Play Store on Android after WhatsApp’s plan first came to light.

WhatsApp had insisted that the planned update does not affect personal conversations, which it said will continue to have end-to-end encryption, or expand its ability to share data with Facebook.

“The update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data,” the company said.

WhatsApp said it had set a new target date of 15 May for the launch of the business tools and will approach users gradually to review the policy changes.

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COVID-19: How long are you protected for if you’ve already had coronavirus – and are you still a risk to others? | UK News

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The study's results come as the first pharmacies start offering vaccinations

People who’ve had COVID are likely to be protected from reinfection for at least five months and have a similar defence to someone who’s been vaccinated, according to a UK study.

But does it mean those who have recovered are no longer a risk to others? And could the protection last any longer? Here’s what you need to know.

Who did the study follow and is it reliable?

More than 20,000 healthcare workers from 102 NHS trusts across the country, including frontline staff, have been tested since June by the Public Health England (PHE) Siren study.

Some 6,614 of them tested positive for antibodies at the start of the research, suggesting they’d had the virus previously in the first wave.

It’s a big cohort of people so its results are valuable – and the study is still ongoing.

How many people contracted COVID a second time?

There were only 44 potential reinfections from the 6,000-plus found to have antibodies.

Two of them were deemed “probable” cases, while 42 were “possible”, based on the evidence available.

What does it mean for the chances of contracting the virus again?

If all 44 cases are assumed to be confirmed reinfections, the protection rate is 83% compared with those who’ve not had it before.

If only the two “probable” cases are considered, the rate would be 99%, but researchers are going with the headline figure of 83%.

However, PHE says more work is going on to clarify this range.

How long does the protection last?

It appears to be at least five months, on average, from first getting sick.

The analysis of the results was done towards the end of 2020, and the study is still following the participants to see if it lasts longer.

Image:
The study’s results come as the first pharmacies start offering vaccinations

It means people infected in the first wave last spring could now be at risk of getting coronavirus again.

The study’s lead, Professor Susan Hopkins, warned the protection “is not total and we do not yet know how long [it] lasts”.

Despite the uncertainties, Dr Julian Tang – a clinical virologist at University of Leicester – said the results were still “useful and reassuring news” for medics on the frontline.

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It’s also important to note that the study was done before the new UK variant – which transmits far more easily – had become widespread.

Scientists are therefore also looking at whether “first wave” antibodies provide protection against it.

How does this ‘natural’ protection compare with vaccines?

Vaccines being rolled out in the UK, such as the Pfizer and Oxford jab, can offer over 90% protection after two shots.

In terms of length of protection, scientists aren’t sure yet – as the vaccines haven’t been around long enough to see how long people are immune for.

The vaccines may also have to be tweaked to deal with new variants of the virus – such as the one that’s been identified recently in Brazil.

If I’ve had COVID before, can I still pass it on?

It’s very possible, and the study’s authors warn that a person with antibodies may still be a clear risk to others.

They say early evidence suggests some people with immunity could carry high levels of the virus in the nose and throat, and potentially pass it on.

Can I be more relaxed if I’ve been infected before?

No – in light of the risk of potentially still being able to spread coronavirus, people must still stick to the law and government guidelines.

PHE stresses it’s “crucial that everyone continues to follow the rules and stays at home, even if they have previously had COVID-19“.

This means continuing to stick to lockdown measures and practise safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing a face covering and regular handwashing.

Will COVID be ‘easier’ the second time, and will I show symptoms?

The two “probable” reinfection cases in the study said their symptoms were less severe the second time – but it’s too early to say for sure.

However, if it were to follow other coronaviruses, a second infection could turn out more minor.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist from Warwick Medical School, said studies on common cold coronaviruses indicate that any reinfection “is unlikely to result in severe disease”.

But one notable difference with getting COVID-19 again, appears to be the likelihood of not showing any symptoms at all.

The study found people who were reinfected were significantly more likely to be asymptomatic (66%) than those contracting COVID for the first time (22%), said Professor Paul Hunter, from the Norwich School of Medicine.

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Donald Trump banned from YouTube over concerns of ‘ongoing potential for violence’ | US News

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Donald Trump banned from YouTube over concerns of 'ongoing potential for violence' | US News

Donald Trump has been banned from uploading videos on YouTube “in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence”, the platform said.

YouTube, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, said it had removed new content from the president’s channel late on Tuesday for violating its policies.

Mr Trump will be unable to upload anything “for a minimum of seven days”, a spokesperson said.

This means he will not be able to post any YouTube videos to his 2.76 million subscribers before Joe Biden replaces him on 20 January.

The president uploaded eight new videos on Tuesday, including one which saw him telling reporters that “Big Tech had made a terrible mistake” by barring him.

The YouTube ban follows similar ones by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which have all suspended Mr Trump’s accounts over fears he may incite further violence following the riots on Capitol Hill last Wednesday.

Google and Apple were also forced to remove alternative website Parler from their app stores this week over concerns the far-right friendly platform may have been used by the president to spread misinformation.

It also comes after US campaign group Stop Hate for Profit threatened to organise a boycott of 1,000 advertisers if YouTube failed to take his account offline.

“If YouTube does not agree with us and join the other platforms in banning Trump, we’re going to go to the advertisers,” organiser Jim Steyer said.

Mainstream broadcasters in the US also appear to be unwilling to give Mr Trump a platform, after many, including CNN and Fox News, failed to take his speech in Alamo, Texas on Tuesday.

They chose instead to stream the latest hearing in the investigation into the violence that swept Washington DC on 6 January.

More than 170 people are being investigated and 70 have been charged over the rioting and looting of Capitol buildings that took place as Electoral College votes were counted in Congress.

Mr Trump had told his supporters to march to the Capitol, repeating false claims that Mr Biden “stole” the November election.

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