Ford said Tuesday that it has ordered a dozen freezers that can safely store the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer. The company's move is intended to ensure that its workers will have access to the vaccine, as well as others, when they are deployed nationally in the U.S.
Ford's move mirrors those being made by U.S. cities and states as they scramble to set up the propwer infrastructure that will permit storing millions of doses of Pfizer's vaccine at temperatures below 70 degrees Celsius, well below the usual refrigeration standard of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.
"We're doing this so that we can make the vaccine available to our employees on a voluntary basis," said Ford spokesperson Kelli Felker. The company is still developing its protocols on how the freezers will be used. The units are expected to be delivered by the end of the year.
Assembly line workers are considered essential in most states, but they are not at the top of the vaccine lists. Vaccines will be administered first to health care workers and nursing home residents, as well as other groups deemed at risk.
Auto manufacturers have been largely successful in preventing the spread of coronavirus among workers at their plants following last spring’s two-month shutdown, but cases of Covid-19 and hospitalizations are spiking in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest. The situation will therefore have to be closely monitored. From the automakers’ point of view, the sooner a majority of their workers are vaccinated, the faster the risk of outbreaks will be reduced.
Ford decided on its own to purchase the freezers. It has not disclosed how much it is paying for them, but the specialized units required for Pfizer's vaccine can cost between $5,000 and $15,000 each, according to industry officials.
It’s also expected there will be shortages of the vaccine, as demand will be high. Fortunately, other vaccines are on the way as well, and it appears likely they will not require storage at such low temperatures.
No one knows precisely how all of this will play out over the next few months, of course. We are moving into uncharted territory.
For its part, General Motors (GM) said it has not purchased freezers at this time. “We are taking steps to be prepared to make vaccines available to our employees when the time is right and vaccines are available to us,” said company spokesperson Patrick Morrissey.
Elsewhere in the industry, no one is saying anything publicly at this time, but you can be sure all are watching the situation closely. There are simply no precedents for what the coming weeks and months have in store.