The vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical company Moderna may be easier to distribute in the rural West, according to regional public health experts.
It can survive up to a month in a freezer, is shipped in small doses, and it doesn't need a special, ultra-cold freezer to survive – unlike the vaccine developed by the company Pfizer.
"When you look at rural communities you're looking at … a smaller population that can be vaccinated. So the Moderna vaccine is a very good option for rural areas because we can send a hundred doses and they can put it in the freezer," said Rich Lakin, immunization director for the Utah Department of Health.
Sarah Leeds, manager for the Idaho Immunization Program and lead for the Department of Health and Welfare for COVID-19 vaccine planning, agreed.
"There are several aspects of the Moderna vaccine that make it easier to distribute and administer," she wrote in an email. "Most healthcare providers who vaccinate are used to dealing with other vaccines with these same storage and handling requirements."
Moderna announced Monday that its vaccine has a shelf life of 30 days in a conventional freezer, which is longer than previously thought. Most rural hospitals, clinics and pharmacies don't have access to the ultra-cold freezers necessary to store the Pfizer vaccine.
But this doesn't mean that the Pfizer vaccine isn't a viable option, according to Lakin.
His department will probably save that vaccine for large, urban hospitals that have the necessary storage capacity, equipment and a high demand. Pfizer plans to ship a minimum of around one thousand doses per box.
"These large hospitals … can easily vaccinate a thousand people in several days, so the Pfizer vaccine makes sense because we can just ship it to them," he said. "The other advantage is that it is coming out two to three weeks earlier than the Moderna. If you can get thousands of people vaccinated during that time frame, that's also another advantage."
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.