The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 received an emergency use authorization from the FDA last Friday, and thousands of doses are being rolled out across the country this week. But the vaccine, which must be stored at between -80 and -60 degrees Celsius, necessitates the utilization of a “cold chain” to keep it within this temperature range from the moment it leaves the manufacturing site to just before it is administered to a patient.
Cold chain technologies are already in place for the distribution of other vaccines and biologic drugs, but the urgency and scale of the COVID-19 pandemic means that companies specializing in these services are experiencing a massive boom in business. These companies, like Cryoport, PCI Pharma, and Stirling Ultracold, have attracted a lot of attention from big investors including the massive private equity firm Blackstone.
Unfortunately, even massive investments cannot expand the existing cold chain overnight. According to Cryport CEO Jerrell Shelton, the coronavirus vaccination effort is “going to strain the temperature control supply chain throughout the world,” and the special freezers needed to store the vaccine are in incredibly high demand. In fact, according to Dippin’ Dots Chief Development Officer Stan Jones, multiple interested parties have reached out to ice cream company looking to lease ultra-cold freezers that Dippin’ Dots uses to store and transport their products. Jones says there are issues with short-term lease agreements, as opposed to outright purchases, because equipment that has been used to store vaccines should not return to use in the food industry.