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Why Do The Coronavirus Vaccines Have To Be Kept So Cold?

Doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are seen at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020.

Doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are seen at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

WFIU News' City Limits: Coronavirus project has received several queries about the new coronavirus vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.

”Why does this vaccine need such sub-zero storage?" one listener asked. "Is there something live in it and it’s being kept frozen to stop replication?"

Another questioner wanted to know if the vaccine could make the person receiving it sick with COVID-19.

Cynthia Brown of the Indiana University School of Medicine answered the second question and part of the first.

“Absolutely not,” she said on a recent Noon Edition. She said the vaccine does not include live COVID material that could infect anyone. She noted there are some side effects, including soreness at the injection site, headache and fatigue.

The absence of live virus in the vaccine means that’s not the reason it needs to be kept at super low temperatures. Multiple sources, including Science News and NPR, reported the issue is all about keeping the vaccine stable.

These sources note the new Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius and the Moderna vaccine at about -20 degrees Celsius so they don’t break down and becoming useless.

THE VACCINE IN INDIANA: Minority Health Coalition Addresses COVID-19 Vaccine

Tina Hesman Saey wrote for Science News, “Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, which carries instructions for building copies of the coronavirus’ spike protein. Human cells read those instructions and produce copies of the protein, which, in turn prime the immune system to attack the coronavirus should it come calling.”

NPR quotes Margaret Liu, a vaccine researcher and board chair for the International Society for Vaccines. She said the mRNA is “really easily destroyed, and that’s because there are many, many enzymes that will just break it apart.”

She told NPR: "Everything happens more slowly as you lower the temperature. So your chemical reactions — the enzymes that break down RNA — are going to happen more slowly."

She added it’s similar to keeping food refrigerated so it won’t spoil.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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