S'pore has checks in place to ensure Covid-19 vaccine cold chain remains intact: Experts

Cargo containing pharmaceuticals, with a thermal blanket to maintain low temperatures, being loaded up a Singapore Airlines plane on Dec 5, 2020.
Cargo containing pharmaceuticals, with a thermal blanket to maintain low temperatures, being loaded up a Singapore Airlines plane on Dec 5, 2020.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - A critical part in the distribution of the temperature-sensitive Covid-19 vaccines, made by Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna, is to ensure a specified temperature range is maintained.

In Singapore, stringent checks are in place that ensure the cold chain for these vaccines is not compromised and that the vaccines remain safe and effective, experts said on Thursday (Dec 17) during a Straits Times webinar on Covid-19 vaccination.

Their assurance comes after the Government announced on Monday its plans to roll out Covid-19 vaccines in Singapore soon, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which the Health Sciences Authority has approved.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is already being administered in Britain and the United States while other nations such as Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Kuwait have authorised its use.

Singapore administers all manner of vaccines daily and "the cold chain management is very much a part of the normal process", said Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, director of the High Level Isolation Unit at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and a member of an expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination appointed by the Health Ministry.

For instance, the Traveller's Health and Vaccination Clinic at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which Prof Lim heads, features temperature-controlled refrigerators that record any deviation from prescribed temperatures, which would trigger an alarm.

Such a deviation can result from the fridge breaking down or the electricity going off, but she assured that there will be a record of that. "We actually have thrown away vaccines when it exceeded the temperature excursion because the fridge broke down, for example.

"That's part of the commitment that we make to safety and quality."

She also said there is no reason to think it would be any different for Covid-19 vaccines since so much more attention is being paid to them.

Another speaker at the webinar was Mr Ashish Pal, managing director for pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme in Singapore and Malaysia.

He noted that different vaccines have different temperature requirements and their safety and efficacy can be compromised if there is any fluctuation in temperature during the transport process leading up to the administering of the drug.

"If you look at some of the recently approved products, companies have done a tremendous amount of work to ensure that the robustness of the distribution process is intact," said Mr Pal, who is also the president of the Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries.

"So there are very clear checks and balances along the way to ensure there is no compromise on the storage conditions alongside transportation conditions, from the point it leaves the manufacturing plant to the point it gets to the healthcare provider's office."

The biopharmaceutical industry has made a commitment to ensuring the safety and quality of the vaccines are not compromised, Mr Pal said, adding that the controls in place are very stringent.