Sea Logistics

These containers used to ship fresh tuna. Now they’ll deliver COVID-19 vaccines

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 minus 60 degrees Celsius, or minus 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 and BioNTech has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, or minus 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.Related video: Family-owned freezer company in Ohio suddenly key part of COVID-19 vaccine supply chain Calling all freezersPharmaceutical products generally need to be kept at a cool 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, or roughly 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, during transport. But Pfizer’s vaccine is different.It’s the first time a vaccine has been approved that uses mRNA technology, which involves transmitting instructions for the body to begin producing part of the coronavirus. That, in turn, triggers an immune response. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use on Friday. The United Kingdom began giving citizens the vaccine on Tuesday, while Canada greenlit its use on Wednesday.Another vaccine produced by Moderna, which also uses mRNA technology, could also be approved by governments in the coming weeks. It can be kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius, or about minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.Supply chain experts say that keeping mRNA vaccines sufficiently cold is one of the chief issues in distributing vaccines around the world and bringing an end to the pandemic. But they think it’s possible, given the sophistication of the so-called “cold chain,” which has for decades shepherded food and drugs around the world at specific temperatures.”It needs to be very carefully planned and executed,” said Burak Kazaz, a professor of supply chain management at Syracuse University. “That’s not to say it cannot be done, but we have to be very careful about it.”The technology doesn’t come cheap. Imperial College in London notes much of the expense of vaccination programs comes from cold chain requirements, which can account for up to 80% of overall costs.But the framework for moving sensitive, temperature-controlled goods around the world is there, according to Tom Jackson, author of the book “Chilled: How Refrigeration Changed the World and Might Do So Again.””If we get the temperatures right, we can take anything anywhere and store it for as long as we want,” Jackson said.That’s in part thanks to Thermo King founders Frederick McKinley Jones and Joseph Numero, according to Jackson. In his book, he writes that Jones developed a more effective refrigerated unit that could be carried by a truck after a golf buddy complained to Numero, his business partner, about…

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