Covid: How 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered from Belgium to a syringe near you

In the race to deliver the first coronavirus vaccine in the UK, Pfizer is currently out in front.

Both AstraZeneca and Pfizer are still waiting for regulatory approval, but once that is given, 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will start their journey from a factory in Puurs, Belgium, to a syringe near you.

Initially it’s understood 10 million doses - enough for five million vulnerable people - will be distributed across the UK possibly by the end of the year.

The process of getting those vials out to where they are needed will not be straightforward.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at around minus 68-70 degrees Centigrade. 

The initial move from Belgium to the UK will involve a specialised distribution company.

One such company is va-Q-Tec, based in Germany, which has already been used by companies like Pfizer to move the vaccine during trials and has the expertise and experience to move cargo at such low temperatures.

German company va-Q-Tec has the expertise to move cargo at low temperatures. Credit: ITV News

Its CEO told ITV News: "We are very proud that we are now a substantial part of this Corona related temperature controlled supply chain, and it makes us proud, but also we feel obliged to deliver.

"And that is what our team will do… We know all the plans for the shipments already in many cases, but we are not entitled to speak about it at the moment."

ITV News has learnt that the logistics company Movianto will take delivery of the vast majority of the doses at a few key warehouses around the country, equipped with specialised freezers.

Movianto’s involvement may raise eyebrows after it’s handling of the PPE stockpile in the spring, which resulted in the army having to come and help speed up the delivery of masks, gloves and gowns at a warehouse in Greater Manchester.

Some of the vials will then be dispatched from Movianto in frozen form direct to around 50 hospitals.

The rest will be passed onto several hubs which are in the process of also being equipped with specialised freezers.

The vaccine will be distributed to hubs in 'pizza boxes' to maintain the cold temperature. Credit: ITV News

These hubs are part of the existing NHS supply chain.

Here the vials can be defrosted to fridge temperature, 2-8 degree Centigrade, as they are needed.

The latest stability data shows the Pfizer vaccine can last for up to five days under these conditions, so once defrosted it will be a race against time to deliver it before it is compromised.

It will then be distributed in the normal NHS supply chain which 95% of NHS medicines travel along.

The normal supply chain is highly complex, involving 16,500 locations.

Keeping the cargo cool is vitally important. Credit: ITV News

The vaccine will be delivered through approximately 1,500 new vaccination centres, as well as existing doctors surgeries and pharmacies.

Security will be of paramount concern along the entire distribution network with both the police and highways agencies being involved to ensure smooth journeys for this valuable cargo.

It’s understood unmarked white vans may be used for the final journey, to keep a low profile and minimise the risk of any of the vaccine being stolen.

The vaccines will arrive in special ‘pizza box’ cold shipping bags, which will keeping them cool in transit. Then once at the vaccine centre - they will be put in fridges and must then be used within five days.

From Belgium to your arm, this will be a feat of logistics which will need to be perfectly executed to ensure a smooth delivery.