A top Pakistani government scientist says Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is not suited for Pakistan, or other developing countries because of the -80°C temperatures it needs to be kept at, and the need for a second shot.
The American pharmaceutical company announced Monday that late-stage testing on its potential two-dose vaccine indicates it is more than 90% effective in preventing the virus in participants without evidence of prior infection.
The revelation is being hailed as a rare piece of positive news in the fight against the pandemic that has globally infected more than 50 million people, with 1.2 million deaths and 33 million people recovered.
But Professor Atta Ur Rahman, who heads Pakistan’s Task Force on Science and Technology, said Tuesday it is “premature at least" for his country or others in the developing world to celebrate the Pfizer vaccine.
“This is a messenger RNA vaccine and it has to be transported at -80°C, so this vaccine is not suited for developing countries,” Rahman told VOA. “The cold storage infrastructure and chains to take this from the airport across the cities and across the countries are missing in the developing world,” the professor explained.
He went on to note that COVID-19 patients would require two doses of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks apart and “a low-temperature carriage” requirement makes it all the more difficult in Pakistan, where average summer temperatures in southern and southwestern regions soar to between 40°C and 50°C.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Own clinical trials on Chinese vaccines
Rahman said Pakistan is also conducting its own final-phase clinical trials on two Chinese-made single-dose vaccines in partnership with China. He says that the vaccines can be transported in normal temperatures, unlike the Pfizer vaccine.
“Our trials are going on very well. The results are very positive as far as I am aware… Both these vaccines do not have this -80°C transportation problem. I expect the vaccines to be better suited for Pakistan than the Pfizer vaccine.”
One of the vaccines under trial in Pakistan has been developed by Chinese biotech firm CanSinoBio and is already undergoing Phase 3, or large-scale, testing on humans in several countries, including China, Russia, Chile and Argentina.
Rahman said the clinical trials in Pakistan, which began in September, will take at least three months and that the results will then be sent back to China to be evaluated.
Pakistan has documented nearly 347,000 infections, with 7,000 deaths and almost 320,000 people recovered since the pandemic hit the country of about 220 million in February.
The number of cases in Pakistan has steadily declined to a few hundred a day since mid-June, when the daily rate of infection spiked at more than 6,000.
But officials in recent days have warned the South Asian nation is experiencing a second wave of infections, reporting 1,637 new cases and 23 deaths Tuesday. The resurgence has prompted the government to revive some restrictions on public movement to stem the spread of the ailment.