- Industrial freezers first created to ship perishable foods like fresh tuna to Japan have been retrofitted to ship the newly-approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
- The doses can be transported in freezers like those from Thermo King, which have been proven to keep supermarket- and restaurant-grade tuna at -76 degrees Fahrenheit as it travels overseas, CNN reported.
- The vaccine has to stay ice-cold to remain effective, since it uses a new kind of immunization technology called mRNA, or messenger RNA.
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Thermo King, an industrial refrigeration company that’s created shippable freezers for sending temperature-sensitive fresh tuna fish to Japan, has found a new use for its food-safety technology: COVID-19 vaccine shipments.
On Friday, the FDA approved the first-ever COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, setting into motion the complex process of shipping the doses, which must be transported on dry ice at -94 degrees Fahrenheit to remain effective, Business Insider previously reported.
That’s where Thermo King’s freezers, which have been proven to keep supermarket- and restaurant-grade tuna at -76 degrees Fahrenheit as it travels overseas, come into play, CNN previously reported.
The Ireland-based company tweaked its freezer design to accommodate the impending vaccine and ramped up production months ago in China, Francesco Incalza, the president of Thermo King Europe, Middle East, and Africa, told CNN Business.
Each of the mammoth freezers is 20 feet long, holds 300,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and can be shipped on boats, planes, and trucks for both national and international distribution.
On Monday, all US states are slated to receive their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which will first be given to frontline healthcare workers, essential workers, people over 65, and those with preexisting conditions who are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections. Patients need two doses of the vaccine, given three weeks apart, to be as effective as possible.
COVID-19 vaccines must stay ice-cold to remain effective
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is the first to use messenger RNA or mRNA, genetic material that tells cells how to make proteins, to prevent people from becoming infected with the coronavirus.
Other vaccines used today, like the flu vaccine, rely on dead or weakened versions of the actual virus, which tell a patient’s body to produce antibodies to fight the invading virus. But the potential severity of COVID-19 led scientists to create a new immunization method, one that’s been studied and developed over the past decade.
Rather than use weakened or dead coronavirus cells, the Pfizer vaccine contains coronavirus mRNA. When injected, the mRNA tells the body to create the spiky coronavirus proteins that attach to cells and help the virus invade them. In response, the body’s immune system sends antibodies to fight the coronavirus proteins and protect the body from future attacks.
Therma King anticipates its overhauled tuna freezers will become increasingly in-demand due to mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s, gene therapies, and other medicines that need ultra-icy temperatures.
“More and more products will need to be transported at these ultra-low temperatures, so it is opening a new market for this kind of equipment,” Incalza told CNN Business.
Moderna’s vaccine, which the FDA is set to review Thursday, also requires cold temperatures during transit, Insider previously reported. Though it doesn’t need to be freezing, the Moderna vaccine should be stored in a fridge for up to a month.