COVID-19 Vaccine Logistics Poses a New Challenge
One week. Two vaccines heralding promise. Maybe three more months before COVID-19 vaccine jabs could start being delivered to somewhere in Canada.
Canada took another step toward that milestone Monday when the federal government announced the names of four main bidders who have been selected to compete for the contracts to deliver a vaccine or vaccines — once approved by Health Canada — to Canadians.
On Monday, the Canadian military also flagged that it is now on standby to help.
And meanwhile, just as happened in the spring, Canadian companies and innovators with outside-the-box solutions are stepping up to offer to help in Ottawa’s looming dilemma of how to store, transport and distribute potentially more than 70 million vaccine doses that have unique cold storage requirements.
The two front-runner vaccine candidates that have reported promising early results are developed by Pfizer and Moderna.
Pfizer’s potential vaccine needs “ultracold” storage at -80C. Moderna’s requires -20 C for long-term shipping and storage but remains stable at 2 C to 8 C, the temperature of a standard home or medical refrigerator, for up to 30 days. Moderna says that allows for storage at most pharmacies, hospitals or physicians’ offices. Once the vaccine is removed from the refrigerator for administration, the company says it can be kept at room temperature conditions for up to 12 hours.
Flavio Volpe, head of Canada’s auto supply manufacturers association, quietly cast around last week for creative solutions to the “ultracold” freezer puzzle. Then he went public, posting on Twitter that he was trying to crowdsource ideas for Ottawa’s decision-makers. He’d done the same thing last spring when a shortage of personal protective equipment and ventilators became apparent in the first wave.
“In the end, we may not be able to help here, but if we can help people get a vaccine within a month, two months, 10 months or more before things would happen naturally, why wouldn’t we?” Volpe said in an interview. “We all have a stake in getting things back to normal.”
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Almost immediately, his call was answered.
Texts and emails landed from a range of companies: auto suppliers that make specialized Styrofoam that could be used for dry-ice containers; companies that already make high-grade Styrofoam containers for the delicate shipping of organs for transplant; companies that manage the shipping and transport of frozen agricultural products like bull semen; and companies that make compressors and condensers, and are investigating whether they can be upgraded and adapted.
Jim Estill of Danby Appliances tweeted back his company is making -80 C freezers. “How many do you want?” he asked.
Reached Monday, Estill said his company is about to roll out a new ultracold freezer, developed in the past 90 days, that will cost an estimated $10,000 apiece.
Estill is talking to the companies aiming to lead the distribution effort. “None of them make freezers. We make freezers. So they need freezers — that’s the bottom line.
“What we don’t know yet is how they’re planning on distributing it,” said Estill. “Are they going to put everything in Toronto and then shoot it out to London from there or are they going to put one in every hospital, one in every pharmacy?
“The logistics of getting everything around, this is going to be the next crisis, to get this done.”
In Victoria, Peter Evans heads up CryoLogistics Refrigeration Technologies Ltd. which has developed a large vacuum-insulated freezer container that runs on liquid carbon dioxide, can hold a pallet-full of product, and keep it frozen or chilled without having to be plugged in to a power supply or generator. His company is also in the running to subcontract as a supplier to the companies seeking to distribute the vaccine.
The technology for the “SnowShip System” has been in development for about four years, and the company is about to begin commercial production. Evans believes it can provide a solution for some of the delivery challenges COVID-19 vaccines pose.
The container operates by converting liquid carbon dioxide to a solid within the container, generating dry ice. It can do the conversion at a steady, predictable rate, and can be programmed to reach the temperature required by whatever product is stored inside, temperatures from the 2 C to 8 C degree range down to -70 C or -80 C. “We were not thinking COVID when we developed our product,” he said. Now they are.
Article: COVID-19 vaccines pose new transportation challenges. Canadian innovators are stepping up
Publication: The Star – Vancouver
Written by: Tonda MacCharles