Cancer institute staff well prepared to handle Covid-19 vaccine

Cancer institute staff well prepared to handle Covid-19 vaccine

PUTRAJAYA, March 9: National Cancer Institute (IKN) here, which is now doubling up as a storage centre for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as well as a vaccination centre, has its hands full in ensuring the correct storage and handling of the vaccine.

The institute is among the 54 vaccine storage centres (PSV) and 605 vaccination centres (PPV) located nationwide.

Under the first phase of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, which kicked off on Feb 24, about 7,020 health and non-health frontliners in Putrajaya are scheduled to receive the Comirnaty vaccine, which is the brand name for the Covid-19 vaccine produced by United States-based Pfizer and BioNTech.

Since it is the first vaccine to be brought into Malaysia to curb Covid-19 transmissions, a key issue to consider would be the correct storage and handling of the vaccine.

The Pfizer-BioNTech is very sensitive and has to be stored in temperatures ranging from -90°C to -60°C to ensure its efficacy. In Malaysia, it is stored in ultra-low temperature chest freezers (ULTF) at various PSV before distribution to the PPV.

Critical 60-second period

IKN director Dr Mohd Anis Haron @ Harun told Bernama the institute has made thorough preparations in terms of facilities and manpower to ensure the success of the nation’s largest-ever immunisation drive.

He said IKN has converted its logistics pharmacy into a storage centre for the Covid-19 vaccine while the foyer on level four of its building has been turned into a vaccination centre.

“We have been making the necessary preparations for two weeks and the staff selected to handle the vaccine have been given full training,” he said.

Mohd Anis said the staff concerned have to be very efficient as they have only 60 seconds or a minute to transfer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the ULTF into a cold box which has a temperature of between 2°C and 8°C.

The cold box is then inserted into a top-loading refrigerator before the vaccine supplies are distributed to the PPV in Putrajaya.

“The process of removing the vaccine from the ULTF has to be done carefully and the staff involved have to wear thick gloves to open the freezer and they just have one minute to transfer the vaccine (to a cold box),” he said, adding that the IKN staff have undergone training to familiarise themselves on the proper handling of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

IKN pharmacist Ahmad Tarmidzi Mohamed explained that before the vaccine can be used, it has to go through the thawing process for three hours after it is removed from the ULTF.

The ULTFs in IKN can each store 96 boxes of the Covid-19 vaccine, with each box containing 195 vials.

“The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be handled carefully as it is not like other vaccines. For instance, if we remove several vials of vaccine from a box and put it (the box) back in the ULTF, the box has to remain in the freezer for two hours before it can be opened again,” he said.

Nothing to fear

Ahmad Tarmidzi said even the ULTF is sensitive to heat and has to be kept in an air-conditioned room to ensure that the vaccine’s storage temperature is maintained at the -75°C level.

“If the ULTF is kept in an ordinary place, there is a possibility of the freezer shutting down… the vaccine’s efficacy will be affected if the ULTF doesn’t function well,” he added.

IKN is tasked with supplying the COVID-19 vaccine to PPV located in Putrajaya and government health clinics in Kuala Lumpur.

IKN’s vaccination centre started operating on March 1 and so far 991 frontline staff have received their Covid-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, head of IKN’s Occupational Safety and Health Unit Dr Melvyn Chin, who is also a vaccinator, urged the public to register themselves for the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I myself have already been vaccinated and I didn’t feel any pain or have any side-effects. No need to be fearful of the vaccine. If you have the opportunity, do take the vaccine to help our nation in its fight against the pandemic,” he added.- Bernama