Nov 24, 2020 - Economy

UPS and Ford prepare for vaccine distribution with ultra-cold freezers

Photo of rows of medical supplies in a convention hall

Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty

UPS and Ford Motor Company have both announced they ordered portable, ultra-low temperature freezers for storing coronavirus vaccines when they become available.

Why it matters: While the promising vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is 95% effective, it can only be stored at or around -70 degrees Celsius.

  • The CDC has advised health care providers against purchasing ultra-low temperature freezers, noting that other vaccines without such storage needs will soon be available. But that hasn’t stopped some hospitals from rushing to buy the freezers, which cost $10,000 to $15,000 each, according to STAT.
  • Moderna’s vaccine must be frozen, too, but only at -20 degrees Celsius.

How it works: The freezer is augmented with dry ice, which maintains the vaccine at the appropriate level, said Army Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed. Doing so maintains the correct temperature for up to 20 days for Pfizer and as long as 30 days for Moderna.

The state of play: UPS will produce 1,200 pounds of dry ice per hour in the U.S. and Canada to store and transport frozen vaccines, the company said in a press release on Tuesday. It will use ultra-cold freezers, ranging from -20 to -80 degrees Celsius, to protect the vaccines.

  • UPS will also make dry ice available to U.S. and Canadian hospitals and clinics.
  • FedEx bought ultra-cold freezers to transport vaccines, the Daily Memphian reported in early November.
  • The two companies are part of a coordinated effort to safely and effectively distribute vaccines across the U.S.

Ford has ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers and plans to offer vaccines exclusively to its employees, the Detroit Free Press reports.

  • The 12 super freezers may not all end up in the U.S.

What they’re saying: “So from Pfizer, Moderna, McKesson trucking, through FedEx, UPS, down to the pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens and many others — the intent was to integrate and synchronize and capitalize on known professionals who know how to execute this,” Perna said on a press call Tuesday.

Context: Hospitals without means will not be able to afford to buy freezers.

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