Delays to EU vaccine deliveries as doses can’t be kept cold enough

Urgent deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine to eight European countries have been delayed due to difficulties keeping the doses cold enough.

Perishable Movements Limited’s team of experts remain on hand to provide expert advice and guidance to any supply teams that are struggling to import or export Covid-19 vaccines within Europe or further afield.

A day after EU states received their first doses of the vaccine from manufacturer Pfizer, Spain’s health ministry said the firm had warned further deliveries to eight countries were held up due to a “problem in the loading and shipment process” at its factory in Belgium.

Salvador Illa, Spain’s health minister, said the hitch, which was now fixed and had put back deliveries by a day, was “linked to the control of the temperature” of doses.

The Pfizer vaccine, which is the first to be rolled out across the continent, must be kept at minus 70C in dry ice packed boxes while being delivered to distribution points. It can then be stored at 2-8C for five days while being sent to vaccination centres.

“Due to a minor logistical issue, we have rescheduled a limited number of our deliveries,” said Andrew Widger, a Pfizer spokesman. “The logistical matter has been resolved and those deliveries are now being dispatched. There are no manufacturing issues to report,” he added.

Asked which eight EU states were affected, Pfizer did not immediately respond.

The challenge of keeping doses cold delayed the first vaccinations in several German cities on Sunday after temperature tracking equipment indicated 1,000 doses may have risen above 8C after leaving distribution points.

The EU’s plan to acquire more than two billion vaccine doses from different firms and inoculate all adults during 2021 has boosted spirits on the continent as contagion continues to spread.

Meanwhile, Germany’s lockdown — announced a fortnight before Christmas and implemented on December 16 — could be tightened and prolonged beyond the middle of January, senior ministers have suggested, as the country recorded its 30,000th coronavirus death.

The infection rate has remained stubbornly high over the past two months, stretching hospitals to their limits in some districts and overwhelming the contact-tracing system. The Covid-19 death toll has tripled since the end of October.

Deaths and new cases eased last week, but Horst Seehofer, the federal interior minister, said it was too soon for Germany to relax. “If the lockdown works and the numbers go down, then we cannot risk everything we have achieved with swift loosening [of the rules], otherwise it will all begin anew,” he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“And if the lockdown hasn’t had enough of an effect, the measures must be tightened … We have to prevent a third wave at any cost.”

A leading virologist in Switzerland has meanwhile proposed an EU-wide lockdown to contain the “UK variant”, the ostensibly more contagious strain of the coronavirus thought to have emerged in southeast England.

Isabella Eckerle, one of the heads of Geneva University’s Centre for Emerging Viral Diseases, suggested “the geographic region of Europe (not only EU) should prepare for a co-ordinated full lockdown” or risk a “tragedy”.

While Italy’s overall second wave contagion rate slows, the northern region of Veneto is still gripped by the pandemic, with 90,000 currently positive cases, up from 81,000 at the start of December.

Luca Zaia, the region’s governor, said one solution was the introduction of Covid vaccine passports, allowing those who have been vaccinated to attend public events while those have not are kept out.

Massimo Galli, head of the infectious diseases unit at Milan’s Sacco Hospital, agreed, telling The Times he backed giving passports to the vaccinated and to those who have had Covid and are likely to be immune.

Those people, and only those people, would be allowed access to theatres, cinemas and their own designated train carriages, he said. “That will be a motive for people to get vaccinated and help keep public areas safer,” he added.