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17 Nov, 2020 16:10

Russia to produce freeze-dried Covid-19 vaccine to solve challenge of keeping formula cold while being moved around vast country

Russia to produce freeze-dried Covid-19 vaccine to solve challenge of keeping formula cold while being moved around vast country

Russia plans to switch the production of its first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, to a freeze-dried form, as the country looks to find a solution for the logistical challenges of transporting it throughout the country and abroad.

The problem of storage is not unique to Sputnik V. Two Western vaccine producers also face the challenge of keeping theirs sufficiently cold. In particular, the formula proposed by American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) boss Kirill Dmitriev told Reuters the freeze-dried vaccine would soon be the main focus of production.

"We expect that, starting roughly from February, we will switch mainly to the lyophilized form," he said. "A large proportion of doses, if not a majority, will be specifically in this form."

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Lyophilization is the medical term for freeze-drying, and is often used to increase the shelf-life of drugs. When lyophilized, a vaccine can be stored at temperatures similar to that of a regular fridge.

Last week, the deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, said a Sputnik V storage facility had already been built in the Moscow Region, but more infrastructure would need to be constructed in other parts of the country.

"Capacity [at the Moscow Region facility] ensures simultaneous storage of up to 3.5 million doses of the vaccine, which is not bad in itself," Medvedev said. "It is necessary to construct the same infrastructure in the regions. This is a complicated, important, and costly task."

On August 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the country had registered the world's first Covid-19 vaccine, developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. Three months later, on November 11, the RDIF proclaimed that Sputnik V is 92 percent effective at protecting people from the coronavirus. The vaccine is currently in its Phase III trial, which is due to involve 40,000 volunteers. The recent results are based on the first 16,000 participants.

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