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)

Numerous vaccines for COVID-19 have begun distribution in the U.S. and around the world. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, are being shipped to pharmacies, 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.

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.

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

Read more on the coronavirus vaccine:

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

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