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Georgia companies prepare to move, store COVID-19 vaccines as demand for dry ice spikes

Dry ice distributors concerned of possible dry ice shortage, prices already increasing.

ATLANTA — With several COVID-19 vaccines reaching an effective rate of at least 90 percent, companies are looking into how these will be transported.

With Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines -- which are still awaiting FDA approval -- needing to be in subzero temperatures, dry ice distributors are concerned of a possible shortage. Pfizer's vaccine must be stored in -70 degrees Celsius and Moderna's at -20.

"There are not very many large scale producers of dry ice and there are not very many manufacturers of dry ice in every corner of the U.S.," said Christian Reyes with PTS Logistics Group.

His company distributes about 85,000 pounds of dry ice a month. He said larger companies, some of which will be producing dry ice for the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines, distribute tens of millions of pounds of dry ice a month.

"The supply is going to become constrained for upwards of a year as this vaccine is distributed to the rest of the country," said Reyes. "What that impact is going to have on the price, that's very easy to anticipate. Supply and demand: supply is constrained, prices are going to go up."

RELATED: As COVID-19 vaccines near, Georgia is finalizing a distribution plan

In fact, Reyes said prices have already gone up and will continue to do so. He said a reason being that the supply of carbon dioxide and the production of ethanol, which dry ice comes from, is down too, increasing demand drastically.

"Prices have already gone up," he explained. "There was roughly a 10-15 percent increase like five days ago and there's going to be another 15-20 percent increase in the coming months. It's a matter of supply and demand."

While distributors worry about the potential shortage of dry ice, shipping company UPS said it can now produce up to 1,200 pounds of dry ice per hour. 

The Sandy Springs-based company added that it will make the dry ice available for hospitals and clinics in portable freezers. It's doing so because of the increase in demand, and the possible dry ice shortage ahead.

Credit: WXIA

The portable freezers can store vaccines at a range of -20 to -80 degree Celsius.

RELATED: UPS increasing dry ice production, freezers for COVID-19 vaccine

Healthcare systems are stepping up, too. In a statement, Piedmont Healthcare said it is preparing to have enough storage for the vaccines.

 “It is part of our preparations to ensure that we have sufficient ultra-cold storage available, should we receive a vaccine that becomes available and requires that specification.” 

In a statement, Emory Healthcare said:

"Emory Healthcare has purchased an ultra-low temperature freezer in preparation for the FDA-approval and arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines. While it will likely be several more months until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available to the public, Emory Healthcare is developing plans and processes for storage, distribution and administration of the vaccine."