Coronavirus Multi-ministry Taskforce update

S'pore familiar with cold storage requirements

Professor Kenneth Mak said cold storage is one of the issues that the ministry and an expert committee on vaccination are working on.
Professor Kenneth Mak said cold storage is one of the issues that the ministry and an expert committee on vaccination are working on.PHOTO: MCI

Singapore is familiar with the cold storage facilities needed to store and distribute vaccines, the Ministry of Health said yesterday.

The ministry's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said at a virtual press conference by the Multi-ministry Taskforce on Covid-19 that Singapore has experience with this, thanks to its national adult and child immunisation programme, which involves vaccinating many in the population, including students at school.

"We do have some familiarity with the requirement for cold storage, both in storing the vaccines as they're brought into the country, and the logistics requirements for maintaining the cold chain as these vaccines are transported from one place to another," he said.

"Even at sites where we set up for vaccination, there will be various requirements to ensure that the vaccine is preserved in an optimal state prior to its use as well."

Prof Mak was responding to a question on whether Singapore is equipped with the facilities and infrastructure needed to store and distribute a vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Pfizer announced on Monday that its candidate vaccine has been found to be more than 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections.

But the novel vaccine, which uses synthetic messenger RNA to help the body immunise itself against a virus, needs to be stored at a super-cold minus 70 deg C, which could pose massive logistical challenges to distribution and storage, even for countries with sophisticated healthcare systems.

Prof Mak said cold storage is one of the issues that the ministry and an expert committee on vaccination set up last month are working on.

"We already do have some cold storage facilities that allow us to be quite familiar with the process of storing vaccines," he said.

"As we discuss with the individual pharmaceutical companies their vaccine candidates, some of the information we request from them are specifically issues in relation to how their vaccine should be stored and maintained before vaccination actually takes place."

If necessary, additional cold storage facilities may be set up in Singapore, Prof Mak added.

He said the ministry and the expert committee are also "giving some thought" to how the vaccines will be transported from place to place.

Rei Kurohi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore familiar with cold storage requirements'. Print Edition | Subscribe