Ford Motor said on Tuesday it has ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers that can safely store Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, a move intended at making sure that the U.S. automaker’s workers have access to vaccines when they are presented nationally.
Ford’s purchase mirrors efforts by U.S. regions to purchase equipment to store millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine at temperatures of minus 70 Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit), much below the standard for vaccines of 2-8 C (36-46 F).
Health care providers and states are getting ready for a new type of vaccine by Pfizer and Moderna Inc that need lower temperatures for storage.
“We’re doing this so that we can make the vaccine available to our employees on a voluntary basis,” Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said.
Details of how the automaker will use the freezers, which are expected to be delivered by year-end, are still being worked out, she said. The automaker screens its workers in-plant and, if COVID-19 testing is required, has partnerships with regional healthcare providers.
Assembly workers are considered essential in most states, but not at the top of the list for vaccines, which are expected to be distributed first to healthcare workers and nursing home residents.
Automakers have been largely able to prevent the spread of the virus among hourly workers in their assembly plants following a two-month shutdown previously in the year, but COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing in the United States.
Felker did not know which company is providing Ford with the freezers. Significant manufacturers include Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc, PHC Corp of North America, Luxembourg’s B Medical Systems, Stirling Ultracold, and Helmer Scientific.
Some specialty freezer makers have cautioned of months-long waits for units.
Ford, which decided to purchase the freezers on its own and is not working with other companies or states, did not reveal how much it spent, but the specialized freezers needed by Pfizer’s vaccine can cost $5,000 to $15,000 apiece, according to industry officials.
A Michigan Department of Health spokeswoman said the agency had no information of companies seeking to buy these freezers. Lynn Sutfin said state officials surveyed healthcare providers and health departments know about 50 ultra-cold freezers in Michigan. State officials also have bought another nine, she said.