In Senegal, lack of cold storage limits COVID vaccine options


SENEGAL does not have the capacity to store COVID-19 vaccines at ultra-low temperatures and would prefer to receive vials that can be kept for longer under ordinary refrigeration, the head of the country’s vaccination programme said on Monday.

A lack of cold storage means Senegal would only be able to keep vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, by China or Russia in the long term, as they do not require a deep freeze, Ousseynou Badiane told Reuters.

Those being distributed by Moderna, which require storage at minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 F), and Pfizer and BioNTech, which need to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius, are less desirable. Senegal could store the Moderna vaccine for 30 days and the Pfizer one for seven days but after that they would be spoiled, Badiane added.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines “are not our first choice. Our first choice is the vaccine that fits easily into the system that exists, that doesn’t require major investment,” Badiane told Reuters.

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“If the vaccines are not used (in the right time frame) that would be an enormous waste.”

The situation in Senegal highlights the problems that poorer countries with hot climates face in storing and distributing vaccines, often in rural areas with unreliable power supplies.

It also shows how far behind some African countries are in preparing to receive vaccines even as COVID-19 cases surge to record levels.

Millions have already received inoculations in Western countries and China, while Senegal is awaiting vaccines through the World Health Organization-backed global COVAX scheme. This programme is helping to finance deliveries to 92 developing nations with limited or no means to buy vaccines on their own.

Senegal is no stranger to vaccination campaigns.

In four walk-in cold rooms in the capital Dakar, authorities keep thousands of vials of yellow fever and hepatitis B vaccines at between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius. It has one room that keeps oral polio vaccines up to minus 25 degrees Celsius.

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At the Fann hospital in Dakar, technicians are installing seven new such rooms. But for now the lack of deep refrigeration limits the country’s options.

“If the option now is to take the (Pfizer or Moderna) vaccines we… would have to redo all our logistics,” Badiane said.

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