Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, are preparing to halve the minimum order size of their coronavirus vaccine in the United States, a boon to smaller medical providers poised to play an increasingly important role in the inoculation of hesitant and hard-to-reach groups.
By the end of May, the companies will make it possible to order their vaccine in increments of 450 doses, instead of the current 1,170-dose configurations that have proved difficult to manage for some physician offices and pharmacies in rural areas.
“The number-one ask that we get is a smaller pack size,” Tanya Alcorn, Pfizer’s vice president for supply chain, said in an interview.
The two-dose regimen has been a workhorse of the immunization effort in the United States, accounting for more than half of the total doses administered. The new configuration will allow more primary care doctors, reluctant to accept doses that may go unused, to participate in vaccinations, said David Bazzo, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians. That, in turn, could help persuade reluctant people to get immunized.
“If you go into see your doctor and your doctor recommends you get the vaccine, that might convince a hesitant person,” he said.
The federal government is working through changes to the ancillary kits that accompany vaccine shipments to accommodate the change, according to a federal official familiar with the developments who was not authorized to discuss them.
The minimum order size for Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine is 100 doses. Moderna’s minimum has been 100 doses as well, but it is jumping to 140 as the company begins shipping vials containing 15 doses, rather than 10.
Pfizer started work on a smaller pack size earlier this year, Alcorn said, as part of an effort that involves ordering equipment, modifying production lines and performing tests. The new pack size will come in the same thermal shipping container housing the larger orders, with dry ice as well as GPS and a temperature tracker. The company anticipates distributing 4.5 million doses per week in the new pack size.
Pfizer and BioNTech are also examining ways to ease storage of the vaccine, including with ready-to-use vials already containing the diluent currently added at vaccination sites and a freeze-dried option that would come in a single-dose, powder-filled vial that could be kept at refrigerated conditions. The ready-to-use product could be available by the end of the year, Alcorn said, while the freeze-dried option is undergoing a trial and could be ready next year.