Germany’s coronavirus vaccination campaign has faced delays in several cities after medical staff found potential irregularities in the cooling of the vaccine produced by local company BioNTech and America’s Pfizer.
Key points:The Pfizer vaccine may not have been kept at temperatures of about -70 degrees Celsius while being shippedSeveral northern Bavarian cities delayed inoculating residents due to uncertainty about whether the temperature had been maintainedOfficials said safety was the priority, not getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible
The European Union launched a mass COVID-19 vaccination drive on Sunday (local time) with pensioners and health workers lining up to get the first shots to see off a pandemic that has crippled economies and claimed more than 1.7 million lives worldwide.
In a statement, officials from the District Office of Lichtenfels in the German state of Bavaria said “doubts arose about the compliance with the cold chain requirements” when temperature logs in the cool boxes were read.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which uses new mRNA technology, must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about -70 degrees Celsius to remain effective before being shipped to distribution centres.
Pfizer has designed special shipping containers filled with dry ice to keep the vaccine from spoiling while in transit.
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Doses can be kept in an ultra-low temperature freezer for up to six months, or for five days at 2C to 8C, a type of refrigeration commonly available at hospitals.
Besides Lichtenfels, the northern Bavarian cities of Coburg, Kronach, Kulmbach, Hof, Bayreuth and Wunsiedel also delayed inoculating residents after uncertainty arose about whether the temperature had been maintained.
“Vaccination against the coronavirus is not about who vaccinates the fastest or who does the most doses,” said Hof district administrator Oliver Baer.
“Safety and conscientious work for the benefit of the population has the highest priority.”
Similar problems also delayed the vaccination campaign in the southern Bavarian city of Augsburg, local media reported.
Germany’s vaccination campaign officially kicked off on Sunday local time with residents of elderly care homes being inoculated.
The federal government is planning to distribute more than 1.3 million doses to local health authorities by the end of this year and about 700,000 per week from January.
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Vaccinations will be free and available to everyone from mid-2021 once the priority groups have been inoculated.
“This makes us proud and above all confident that we can overcome this pandemic — because vaccinating paves our way out of the crisis,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a tweet.
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