Pfizer COVID vaccine requires super cold storage, prompting dry ice business boom

Dry ice's temperature is -109 degrees Fahrenheit, lasts up to 36 hours

ByAlexis McAdams WLS logo
Monday, December 14, 2020
Dry ice business booms for super cold COVID vaccine storage
What do you do if you need to keep the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine safety at super cold temperatures, but don't have the specialized freezer needed? Dry ice, baby.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Polar Ice Company on Chicago's West Side is slammed with orders now that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which requires super cold storage, has arrived in Illinois.

"Every day we get different calls from hospitals and clinics, and more calls now because of the vaccine," said Luis Salgado, Polar Ice Company.

The team is now prepping thousands of pounds of dry ice. Salgado said they have about six drivers delivering truckfuls of dry ice every day. Each shipment is vital for the Pfizer vaccine, vials of which must be kept at -94 degrees. That exceptionally cold temperature has prompted hospitals to turn to dry ice.

"The temperature is 109 degrees below zero, so pretty cold," Salgado said.

That's cold enough to keep the vaccine in top shape, especially since every second counts. Once out of the shipping container, the vaccine needs to be moved into a special freezer or put in a standard refrigerator within 90 seconds. There, it will thaw and can stay for up to 5 days. Once out of the refrigerator, a vial is quickly diluted into five doses that must be injected within two hours, or it will spoil.

Salgado, whose family-owned ice business has been operating for 60 years, said hospitals are using hundreds of pounds of dry ice pellets every day.

"They get a scoop and put it into the container where the vaccine is at," he explained. "They take it for delivery."

St. Anthony's Hospital does not have a large freezer system and is instead depending on the dry ice shipments.

"Every other day they are asking for 200 pounds," said Salgado.

The dry ice will help keep the vaccine frozen, but it only lasts up to 36 hours, which in turn means continuous demand.

"We had over 10 shipments and each customer probably took 300 to 800 pounds," Salgado said.

As a result, Polar Ice is bringing in more product to address the spike in demand. The supply chain is in good shape for now, but that could change.

"We are doing fine right now and we have a backup plan so if someone orders 3,000 pounds we will have it in stock," he said.

He is excited to be part of this history and looking forward to fighting back against the virus that has ravaged his community.

"It feels good. If it is going to help a lot of people, I hope it does," said Salgado.

Fifteen more shipments of dry ice are expected to roll out of the West Side facility and to local hospitals in the coming days.