Dry Ice Shortage Could Freeze COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Posted on 10/27/2020 by Lauren Scott

From disinfecting wipes to N95 masks, from toilet paper to rice, the coronavirus pandemic has caused supply shortages of a multitude of products. The latest expected casualty: dry ice.

Dry ice is created using carbon dioxide (CO2) captured during the production of ethanol. But as fewer people are driving and purchasing gas, the demand for ethanol has plummeted. Conversely, the pandemic has increased the demand for meal kit delivery services, meaning more dry ice is needed to keep foods cold during transport.

The slowed production of ethanol has decreased the amount of dry ice available on the market. As of early September, American Dry Ice Corp in Palmer, MA estimates that it receives 85% of the company’s CO2 orders and that deliveries take an extra 4 to 6 days.

This may not seem like an issue yet, but these delays have drawn concern from public health experts, who fear this shortage may get worse once a coronavirus vaccine is approved and prepped for distribution.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, have already said that their vaccines would require ultra-low temperatures for housing. Pfizer’s vaccine in particular requires a temperature of about 103 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. However, not all vaccines are expected to require such low temperatures. Johnson & Johnson has reported that at least one of its vaccine trails does not require subzero temperatures for storage.

To put it in perspective, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments in September to start planning for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, as thousands of aircrafts remain grounded. The Agency predicts that the distribution of a single-dose vaccine to 7.8 billion people would require over eight thousand 747 cargo aircrafts. This is a challenge in and of itself, but dry ice adds another layer.

Why Is Dry Ice Hazmat When Shipped by Air?

What makes dry ice potentially dangerous? As the dry ice sublimates, it releases gas that can build up enough pressure inside a package to cause an explosion. As gas is emitted in a confined space like an airplane, it displaces air and can cause suffocation. In addition, dry ice is a cryogenic; contact can cause severe damage to skin.

Dry Ice Training to Help You Rise to the Challenge

Lion’s Shipping Infectious Substances with Dry Ice online course provides hazmat shippers with the training they need to prepare infectious substances for transportation by ground or air (with or without dry ice). This self-paced, virtual training will help you accurately classify and name infectious substances as well as package, mark, label, and document regulated shipments.

Click here to see our full safety and hazmat training catalog for healthcare workers.

Tags: carbon dioxide, CO2, coronavirus, COVID-19, dry ice, IATA, pharmaceuticals, shipping dry ice, shipping vaccine, supply chain management, vaccine

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