Demand for dry ice is off the charts—and it's not because of a resurgence in heavy metal concerts. Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine, which could receive emergency use authorization from the FDA within days, needs to be stored at -112 degrees Fahrenheit to be effective. That temperature is cold enough to shatter tires, and the cold-chain infrastructure required is going to be strained. Akron, Ohio, "fifth-generation ice man" Harry Gehm tells USA Today that he's been getting calls from across the region. "The Ohio health department called for 15,000 pounds of dry ice a week," he said from the offices of Gehm & Sons. Hospitals and the Giant Eagle pharmacy chain "have been calling to make sure I have the capacity."
Dry ice, the solid form of carbon dioxide, will keep the Pfizer vaccine at the required temperature in the insulated compartments it is being shipped in. Demand for $15,000 medical-grade ultracold freezers has also soared and the backlog for orders is now six weeks. The New York Times reported in September that shipping companies had started gearing up for the challenge of distributing millions of doses of an ultracold vaccine. FedEx exec Richard W. Smith said the company doubled its freezer capacity around the world during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, when the government asked it to prepare to transport vaccines. "Fortunately, H1N1 did not rise to the level of the pandemic we thought it could," he said. "But that allowed us to really beef up our cold-chain infrastructure." (Another vaccine from Moderna can be stored at higher temperatures.)