The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine can be stored at fridge temperature for much longer than previously recommended, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The previous advice was the vaccine needed to be kept at an ultra-low temperature, between -70C and -80C, until a few days before use when it could be transferred to a standard medical fridge.
The EMA said in a statement it had extended the approved storage period for an unopened thawed vial when kept in a fridge between 2C and 8C from five days to one month.
“The change was approved following assessment of additional stability study data submitted to EMA by the marketing authorisation holder,” the agency said.
Increased flexibility in the storage and handling of the vaccine is expected to have a “significant impact” on the planning and logistics of vaccine rollout in EU member states.
The updated advice comes days after research suggested a 12-week gap between Pfizer doses significantly increases the immune response in older people.
The antibody response in people aged over 80 is three-and-a-half times greater in those who have the second dose after 12 weeks, compared with a three-week interval, the study led by the University of Birmingham, in collaboration with Public Health England, found.
BioNTech said on 10 May there was no evidence its jab needed updating to protect against variants.
The UK government has ordered a further 60m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine as part of its plans for a vaccination booster programme this autumn.
It is thought that the most vulnerable groups of people, including the elderly, will be offered another jab before next winter.
The extra order brings the total number of Pfizer doses ordered by the UK to 100m.