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Pfizer’s high-tech plan to track every dose of its experimental COVID vaccine

October 27, 2020, 9:05 PM UTC

COVID vaccine development is complicated, especially in the truncated timeline that the moment calls for. Creating a successful and long-lasting vaccine is hard enough as it is. But then logistics come into play, forcing drug makers to innovate at multiple steps in the supply chain.

That was the message from Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla during an interview with Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf at the Fortune Global Forum virtual conference on Tuesday.

The type of vaccine that Pfizer is working on with partner BioNTech is a so-called mRNA vaccine. These biological materials have to be stored at stunningly low temperatures, at about negative 80 degrees Celsius or negative 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

That necessitated some creative logistics wrangling by Pfizer, including a specialized high-tech case meant to ensure its COVID vaccine’s integrity.

“You have a carrying case, a storage case that goes with the vaccine, that has GPS-enabled, thermal-enabled technology,” pointed out Leaf. This would allow them to track the vaccine doses precisely and also keep tabs on the therapy’s temperature.

“The logistics of medicines and distribution of medicines are always very complicated, because there are always storage conditions,” said Bourla. “And we knew that we had to move very fast. So we wanted to make sure that we can distribute by plane, we can distribute by any type of vehicle without needing refrigeration individually.”

The specialized case can preserve the sub-100 degree temperature for 10 days, meaning distribution to other countries and across the United States is much more feasible.

Pfizer is hopeful that it will be able to apply for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency authorization of its coronavirus vaccine by the end of November.