Dry ice makers pressed to meet demand for vaccine distribution
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We’re getting closer to a COVID-19 vaccine moving onto the market. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to issue Pfizer vaccine authorization Friday evening. And as details get ironed out — who will get it first and how and where — one thing is certain: The vaccine has to be kept in extreme cold at minus 94 degrees. And keeping it that cold requires dry ice.
Where does that dry ice comes from? Is there enough of it to go around? And how much is it going to cost?
Just about every day, Reggie Wright, a sales manager for Roberts Gas in the Washington, D.C., area gets calls from his anxious clients — food packagers, industrial cleaners, hospitals and labs that ship specimens. They want to know: “Do we think there’ll be a shortage, do we think we’ll have any problems supplying the quantities that they are guessing they may need?” he said.
That’s because demand for dry ice is about to spike, and a whole bunch of industries are worried.
“Without dry ice, we would not be able to get dairy cultures out there, and as a result, would not be able to process milk,” said Rebekah Sweeney of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.
She said manufacturers use 350,000 pounds of dry ice a week to make cheese cultures. So whatever it costs, they’re going to need to buy it.
Now, dry ice sells for $1 to $3 a pound. It’s a solid form of carbon dioxide.
Prices started climbing in the spring because of the pandemic. Sam Rushing, president of Advanced Cryogenics, has been consulting to the industry for more than three decades. The new shutdowns “could precipitate more shortages,” he said, and higher costs.
Terry Esper, a supply chain expert at Ohio State University, said the prospect of scarcity could be an opportunity for innovation.
“We’re going to start exploring additional ways of maintaining temperatures while in transit that require solutions other than dry ice,” he said.
But he said in the meantime, while the vaccine gets priority, smaller businesses and nonessential industries may end up losing out.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?
This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.
Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?
India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.
Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?
As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.
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