How long can the COVID vaccine sit on the shelf before it expires?

Man looking at vaccine in container - shelf life covid vaccine
Photo via Japanexperterna.se/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: April 14, 2021

Numerous vaccines for COVID-19 have begun distribution in the U.S. and around the world. The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been shipped to pharmacies like CVS, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers, and citizens are being vaccinated. The shelf life of these COVID-19 vaccines varies depending on the vaccine developer and the temperature at which they are kept.

What is the shelf life of all three vaccines?

The Pfizer vaccine’s lifespan depends largely on the temperature at which it is stored. All Pfizer vaccines will be shipped in special thermal shippers, which will maintain a temperature of -70 degrees Celcius, and can be used as temporary storage units by refilling them with dry ice whenever necessary. The vaccine can be stored in these containers for up to 30 days.

Stored in the refrigerators commonly found in hospitals and pharmacies, the vaccine can last for five days, assuming temperatures remain between 2-8 degrees Celsius. This can give COVID vaccines stored in the temporary containers and then shifted to refrigerators a shelf life of 35 days. 

At “ultra-low temperatures,” doses of the Pfizer vaccine can last up to six months. Once thawed, however, vaccines cannot be refrozen and stored. To ensure that no vaccines are stored improperly and lose their viability, Pfizer intends to utilize “GPS-enabled thermal sensors,” which will track the temperature of each shipment and allow Pfizer to “proactively prevent unwanted deviations and act before they happen,” according to the Pfizer website.

But in late February, the FDA said the Pfizer vaccine could be stored at standard freezer temperatures for up to two weeks.

The Moderna vaccine similarly depends on freezing temperatures to maintain viability. The vaccine must be kept at the same temperature as the Pfizer vaccine: between 2-8 degrees Celsius (or 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit). It will remain stable at these temperatures for 30 days. At room temperature, the vaccine will remain viable for up to 12 hours. 

At freezing temperatures, the Moderna vaccine can be stored for up to 6 months

If the vaccines are thawed and then can’t be used in their current location, though, states are trying to relocate those doses so they can be given to people before they expire. Either that or people who wouldn’t be a priority patient have scored the vaccine for being in the right place at the right time.

During the Texas winter storms in mid-February, a power outage shut down a facility storing more than 8,000 Moderna vaccine doses. Officials managed to get more than 5,000 people vaccinated during the next 12 hours, and for the remainder of the doses, Moderna gave specific guidance so they could be re-refrigerated and kept safe.

Meanwhile, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was approved for the U.S. in February and which requires only a single dose, doesn’t require ultra-freezing temperatures to store. According to Johnson & Johnson, the vaccine “is compatible with standard vaccine storage and distribution channels with ease of delivery to remote areas. The vaccine is estimated to remain stable for two years at -4°F (-20°C), and a maximum of three months at routine refrigeration at temperatures of 36-46°F (2 to 8°C).

But the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was halted in the U.S. on April 13 after it was linked to rare cases of blood clotting.

Read more on the coronavirus vaccine:

Sources: CDC, Moderna, Pfizer, the New York Times, Immunize.org

Continue Learning