The first pictures have been released of freezers storing the UK's supply of coronavirus vaccines, ahead of the expected rollout next week.
Initial supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are being stored in specialist freezers at a secure location in England from which they will be distributed to the NHS.
Pictures released by Public Health England show the freezers containing the doses – which must be stored at between minus 70C and minus 80C – although no images of the vaccine vials were included due to the process associated with opening the packaging.
The vaccine doses were dispatched from Belgium by Pfizer and must go through a “post-delivery quality assurance process” on arrival to ensure the vaccine's quality and integrity was maintained in transit, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The process, which could take 12-24 hours, is carried out by a specialist medical logistics company, and relies upon information on the shipment temperature data being supplied by Pfizer.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses are shipped in specially designed “pizza boxes”
Over the following few days, each box needs to be opened and unpacked manually, and temperature data has to be downloaded from every box, the DHSC said.
There are five packs of 975 doses per box, and only sites with the necessary licence can split the vaccine packs.
Once all checks are complete, the vaccine will be made available to order by authorised NHS sites. There are around 50 authorised sites in England so far.
The DHSC pointed out that delivering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is complex, due to it needing to be stored at very cold temperatures and moved carefully, so it will at first will be administered from hospital hubs.
Defrosting the vaccine takes a few hours and additional time is then required to prepare the vaccine for administering. The DHSC said more than 1,000 local vaccination centres, operated by groups of GPs, will be operational shortly with more being set up as more doses arrive.
The UK received 800,000 doses of the vaccine in the first delivery, with more expected to arrive in the weeks ahead.
Stage one of the phased rollout of the vaccine will begin when it has been distributed. Preparations are under way to begin administering the vaccine from as early as Tuesday.
Vaccine must be stored at between minus 70C and minus 80C
“Once we get more vaccine and are able to split the large packs down, we will be able to do both bigger vaccination centres and smaller arrangements through local pharmacies,” the DHSC said.
Additional reporting by Press Association