COVID logistics nightmare: Developing a vaccine might be easy compared to shipping vials at -112°F to hundreds of millions of people around the globe

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Drug companies will have to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Billions of people will have to consent to vaccination.

But there are more prosaic challenges, too. Among them: Companies may have to transport tiny glass vials thousands of miles while keeping them as cold as the South Pole in the depths of winter.

A number of the leading Covid-19 vaccines under development will need to be kept at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius (minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit) from the moment they are bottled to the time they are ready to be injected into patients’ arms.

That will not be easy. Vaccines may be manufactured on one continent and shipped to another. They will go from logistics hub to logistics hub before ending up at the hospitals.

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The U.S. military and a federal contractor are expected to play a role in coordinating the distribution. But a hodgepodge of companies are scrambling to figure out how to keep hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine very, very cold.

Planes, trucks and warehouses will need to be outfitted with freezers. Glass vials will need to withstand icy climes. Someone will need to make a lot more dry ice.

“We’re only now beginning to understand the complexities of the delivery side of all of this,” said J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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