It’s one of the biggest logistical challenges in modern history: How will millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses that must be kept at incredibly cold temperatures be quickly shipped across continents and oceans?
One company is using its experience with tuna as a guide.
Thermo King — which revolutionized the transportation of food through advances in temperature-controlled shipping before World War II — is working with pharmaceutical companies, governments and logistics firms to ensure vaccines are preserved as they travel to clinics and hospitals. To make this happen, they’ve reworked containers typically used to transport fresh tuna to Japan, which requires similar frigid conditions.
“We took that product and we amended it,” Francesco Incalza, president Thermo King Europe, Middle East and Africa, told CNN Business.
Tuna must be stored at -60 degrees Celsius, or -76 degrees Fahrenheit, to maintain its quality and deep red hue when it reaches supermarkets and restaurants, Incalza said. The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech has to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, or -94 degrees Fahrenheit, while in transit.
So Thermo King, which is part of Ireland-based Trane Technologies, made some tweaks, adding additional insulation and adjusting the refrigeration system so it could get even colder. Now, each 20-foot-long container can carry 300,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine — the first to be approved for use by Western countries following rigorous testing — by land or sea. Some have already been sold and are making their way around the globe.
Incalza said this kind of innovation would normally take years to develop.