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Army faces ‘biggest task since the war’ in rolling out millions of Covid vaccine doses

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 10/11/2020 Joe Murphy

The Army faces “the biggest logistical effort since the Second Word War” in rolling out millions of vaccine doses that must be kept at -70C through a complex delivery network, experts said today.

The Ministry of Defence will play a key role in devising a cold-storage supply chain capable of rushing doses from the manufacturer in Belgium to any point in the UK within days. Special containers have been designed by Pfizer to transport between 1,000 and 5,000 doses at a time packed in dry ice. New vials have been developed because ordinary glass would shatter in the extreme conditions.

“The Pfizer vaccine needs to be held at -70C until the last few hours before it is deployed, which makes things more complicated,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Vaccines may be shipped via military air transport to distribution hubs around the UK and then whisked by Army trucks to vaccination stations.

Packages could be fitted with GPS trackers to prevent thefts and allow doses to be delivered with pinpoint accuracy and timing.

Mr Hancock said that once the vaccine is available it will be delivered through care homes, GPs and pharmacists, as well as “go-to” vaccination centres set up in venues such as sports halls.  

But the cold storage required is far beyond the capability of ordinary fridges, meaning fresh doses will be constantly delivered.

A separate vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca will be “a bit easier to deploy logistically”, said the minister, because it does not require super cold storage.

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