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Cold Storage Requirements for New COVID-19 Vaccines

Cold Storage Requirements for New COVID-19 Vaccines

Demand for ultra-cold freezers soars as RNA vaccines are being developed

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Erica Tennenhouse, PhD

Erica Tennenhouse, PhD, was the managing editor of Today's Clinical Lab (formerly Clinical Lab Manager) from 2018 to 2022. Erica is a freelance writer and has written for National...

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Published:Dec 03, 2020
|3 min read
Jim Estill

Jim Estill is currently CEO of both of Danby Appliances and  ShipperBee, a new venture that is revamping outdated shipping channels into a system that is better for consumers, retailers and the environment. 

Jim is a Canadian technology entrepreneur, executive, and philanthropist. He started his first computer distribution business from the trunk of his car while in university and grew that business to $2 billion in sales.

Jim has invested in, mentored, and advised many technology companies including Blackberry. He joined their board before they went public and served for 13 years.

Jim is the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 Ontario winner.

Q: Danby Appliances recently announced it is coming out with a new line of -80°C freezers. Why is this new line being launched? 

A: We’re primarily doing it because of the COVID-19 vaccines. The new vaccines are called RNA vaccines and they need to be kept at low temperatures. Pfizer announced their vaccine needs -80°C, and even the Moderna one, which doesn’t need the -80°C, needs to be kept at -33°C if you store it for more than 30 days. There’s going to be a future need as more and more of these RNA vaccines come out—it’s just the way of the future; it’s the way vaccines are being done.

We are, of course, a freezer manufacturer, so we’re already in the business. We already had these on the drawing board, and we had already done a little bit of work on them. It just makes sense to accelerate it because the need is now.

Q: Can you describe the cold chain for these RNA vaccines?

A: We’re trying to figure out what the cold chain is. The vaccine leaves the factory at -80°C. You can pack it in dry ice, which is -78.5°C, and it will last for up to 48 hours. So, you could make a vaccine at Pfizer and ship it by FedEx, but it should then go into -80°C when it arrives at a hospital, clinic, or pharmacy, depending on where it’s being stored. Because the Pfizer vaccine is stable in a regular refrigerator or freezer for up to five days, it can be distributed to a local clinic and as long as they use it within five days, it doesn’t need this super cold freezing. 

We really don’t know where the need is going to be and how the supply chain is going to go. We simply announced our freezers. Will they be part of the cold chain? Probably, but we just don’t know where.

Q: How do Danby’s ultra-low temperature freezers differ from regular freezers?

A: The freezer has two compressors. The first compressor cools the coolant before it goes to the second compressor, so it takes two compressions to get to the temperature you need. Normal freezers just have one compressor. 

The other difference is that we have more insulation and tighter seals. If your home freezer leaks a little bit of air, it’s not that big a deal because what causes temperatures to change is the temperature differential. Your home freezer is at 0°C and if you open it in a 20°C room, it’s only a 20°C difference, which is not as big a deal. But if your ambient temperature in a room is 20°C and you open a -80°C freezer, that’s a 100°C difference in temperature. 

Also, with your freezer at home, you can take the frozen stuff out and sit it on the counter if you want for an hour and it doesn’t hurt anything. But we’re being told these vaccines lose their efficacy when they’re kept at the wrong temperature, so it’s a lot more serious.