The US FDA is allowing undiluted frozen vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to be transported and stored at conventional temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers for a period of up to two weeks, according to the agency.
An updated FDA fact sheet released by the agency documents the new guidelines:
Frozen Vials Prior to Use
Cartons of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Multiple Dose Vials arrive in thermal containers with dry ice. Once received, remove the vial cartons immediately from the thermal container and preferably store in an ultra-low temperature freezer between -80ºC to -60ºC (-112ºF to -76ºF) until the expiry date printed on the label. Alternatively, vials may be stored at -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to 5°F) for up to 2 weeks. Vials must be kept frozen and protected from light until ready to use. Vials stored at -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to 5°F) for up to 2 weeks may be returned one time to the recommended storage condition of -80ºC to -60ºC (-112ºF to -76ºF). Total cumulative time the vials are stored at -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to 5°F) should be tracked and should not exceed 2 weeks.
If an ultra-low temperature freezer is not available, the thermal container in which the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine arrives may be used as temporary storage when consistently re-filled to the top of the container with dry ice. Refer to the re-icing guidelines packed in the original thermal container for instructions regarding the use of the thermal container for temporary storage. The thermal container maintains a temperature range of -90ºC to -60ºC (-130ºF to -76ºF). Storage of the vials between -96°C to -60°C (-141°F to -76°F) is not considered an excursion from the recommended storage condition.
Transportation of Frozen Vials
If local redistribution is needed and full cartons containing vials cannot be transported at -90°C to -60°C (-130°F to -76°F), vials may be transported at -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to 5°F). Any hours used for transport at -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to
5°F) count against the 2-week limit for storage at -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to 5°F). Frozen vials transported at -25°C to -15°C (-13°F to 5°F) may be returned one time to the recommended storage condition of -80ºC to -60ºC (-112ºF to -76ºF)
“Pfizer submitted data to the FDA to support this alternative temperature for transportation and storage. This alternative temperature for transportation and storage of the undiluted vials is significant and allows the vials to be transported and stored under more flexible conditions. The alternative temperature for transportation and storage will help ease the burden of procuring ultra-low cold storage equipment for vaccination sites and should help to get vaccine to more sites,” said Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
Pfizer Inc. submitted data to the FDA to demonstrate that their COVID-19 vaccine remains stable after storage of the undiluted vials for up to two weeks at standard freezer temperature. The alternative temperature for storage of frozen vials is not applicable to the storage of thawed vials before dilution (which can be held in the refrigerator for up to 5 days), or on the storage of thawed vials after dilution (which can be held at refrigerator temperature or room temperature for use within 6 hours).
Read the updated Fact Sheets for Health Care Providers Administering Vaccine (Vaccination Providers) available on the FDA website.