The life of a freezer product manager is generally fairly boring. Your product development definition tells you to create more and more efficient products in order to replace the older units that your customers are using. You replace the ones that wear out and you are always looking for new customers. However, with the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines that have to be kept very cold, all of a sudden the demand for freezers, and a lot of them, has exploded. How are freezer product managers going to deal with their new found popularity?
The Value Of Freezers
So it turns out that the race to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to hundreds of millions of Americans has come down to one question: does anyone have enough freezers? Some of the vaccine shots must be stored at temperatures as cold as minus 80 degrees Celsius, or minus 112 Fahrenheit, similar to conditions for transporting ice cream and steaks to supermarkets and eventually to people’s doorsteps. Hospitals, pharmacies and physicians’ offices are becoming vaccination sites, but they have few such specialized freezers. That is prompting a mad dash by logistics, public-health and drug-industry officials to work with freezer product managers in order to cobble together a cold-storage supply chain that can deliver vaccines around the country without letting them become warm and ineffective.
Some of the vaccines that have been developed for Covid-19 require colder temperatures for transport than typical vaccines. To address concerns about equipment and storage capacity, hospitals are working with freezer product managers to create plans to buy special freezers. Logistics companies and other nontraditional health-care competitors are in the process of building facilities to house hundreds of mobile cold-storage units. These will be known as freezer farms. Creating these would look good on any freezer product manager’s product manager resume. At least one vaccine drug maker has created its own specialized container to keep vaccines cold for at least 10 days uninterrupted. Meanwhile, vaccine makers are studying whether if it is possible for their shots to be shipped at warmer temperatures to potential vaccination sites. It turns out that vaccines are similar to dairy or meat products in that their chemical structures are maintained when they are kept within certain temperature ranges. Drug companies have lots of data on optimal temperatures for older vaccines such as chickenpox and shingles. But given the breakneck pace of Covid-19 vaccine development, researchers are currently lacking information about storage requirements that they would normally learn after clinical trials are completed.
A Covid-19 vaccine stored at ultracold temperatures stresses the supply chain because of the demands required for transportation and storage. When you think about getting this out to 300 million American adults, every logistical efficiency freezer product managers can garner is going to have to help with that. It’s really about trying to figure out, how are we going to get it to those people…and store it within an hour of their home? Vaccines are viewed by health and industry officials as being the key to stopping the spread of the new coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease. The most advanced have undergone testing with clinical trials involving 30,000 people or more, and the U.S. government is planning for these vaccines’ distribution.
Solving The Freezer Problem
Two of the leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates, from Pfizer and partner BioNTech and from Moderna, rely on a new gene-based technology called mRNA that requires the shots be stored at subzero temperatures. Both of these vaccines have to be stored at ultracold temperatures, around minus 70 or minus 80 degrees Celsius. Medications such as cell-based therapies also are currently shipped at ultracold temperatures, often using liquid nitrogen or dry ice. But doing so can be very costly. The Covid-19 case means that never have so many vaccines been shepherded so quickly. Health and industry officials expect hospitals to be the primary sites where vaccines are administered to millions of health-care workers. The problem is that many hospitals don’t have the space or mechanical requirements to store vaccines at subzero temperatures.
The lack of equipment means access to some vaccines might vary around the country. Pharmacies and clinics aren’t expected to become vaccination sites until a vaccine is fully authorized for the broader population. The key is that you have to target the vaccines to the location where the storage and handling facilities are available. Depending on freezer availability, it may be that every vaccine can’t be used in every location. Ultracold freezers aren’t common in hospitals simply because most drugs and vaccines don’t need them. The chickenpox vaccine is one of the few vaccines that currently needs to be stored frozen. Flu vaccines are simply refrigerated. Because of their limited shelf life even while being stored in cold storage, Covid-19 vaccines might need to be used within six months, a much smaller window than for other pharmaceuticals. To make sure its Covid-19 vaccine doses arrive at hospitals and clinics frozen and potent, Pfizer product managers created their own container to ship them. The temperature-controlled container can store up to 1,000 and 5,000 doses for 10 days at minus 70 degrees Celsius before requiring re-icing.
Freezer product managers realize that everyone’s going to be looking for freezers. Locations will need high-end freezers that are not readily available and which have a limited supply chain. Most commercial containers preserve temperatures for just a few days. Earlier this year, Moderna had to store its vaccine at minus 70 degrees Celsius in preparation of clinical trials. Since then, it has done further study and now plans to ship the shots at only minus 20. Once it has been thawed, the vaccine can remain refrigerated for a week. Some other Covid-19 vaccines don’t require ultracold temperatures. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will be shipped commercially using standard refrigeration. Meanwhile, physicians’ offices, pharmacies and other places Americans go for routine health care are poised to be sites for Covid-19 vaccinations, and public-health and industry officials are worried that many of them lack ultracold freezing capabilities. Pfizer’s own containers might not work for smaller clinics or pharmacies that won’t be administering thousands of doses, public-health officials said. Pfizer product managers are also working on a smaller container to ship their vaccines. United Parcel Service Inc. plans to finish construction of its freezer farms filled with mobile freezer units in Louisville, Ky., and the Netherlands to serve as stopover points during distribution. The freezers, which can hold as many as 48,000 vials each, can be configured to hold a vaccine at between minus 85 and minus 20 degrees Celsius.
What All Of This Means For You
We are all happy that things can be kept cold for us. No matter if it’s a pizza that we want to eat, a beer that we want to drink, or just ice cubes for our drink, having a freezer available is a big help. However, when it comes time to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to 300+ million Americans, a great number of freezers are going to be required. Not only are a lot of freezers going to be required, but the types of freezers that are needed will be special. Covid-19 vaccines will required ultracold freezers of which there are not too many right now. Just exactly how are freezer product managers going to use their product manager job description to meet this need?
The Covid-19 vaccines have to be kept in cold storage as they are being transported to their distribution sites. Some of the vaccine shots must be stored at temperatures as cold as minus 80 degrees Celsius, or minus 112 Fahrenheit. Vaccine distribution sites are going to have to purchase new ultracold freezers. Some sites will purchase a number of freezers and create a freezer farm. The vaccines from Pfizer and partner BioNTech and from Moderna rely on a new gene-based technology called mRNA that requires the shots be stored at subzero temperatures. Sites that lack freezers may not be able to distribute certain types of vaccines. There is a limited supply of high-end freezers. Containers from the vaccine manufactures may be used to keep the vaccines cold.
It turns out that normally there is not that much of a need for freezers that can keep things really, really cold. However, the arrival of multiple Covid-19 vaccines that require very cold temperatures during their transportation has created a sudden need for a lot of these ultracold freezers. Freezer product managers are going to have to work with their supply chains in order to create the freezers that will be needed. If Covid-19 is going to be defeated, then it looks like it’s up to the freezer product managers to make it happen.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Product managers are starting to discover that something that we may have stopped thinking about in this digital age is still very, very important. Even as more and more of our customers are buying things online, it turns out that they still go out and go shopping. When they do this, they want to see and touch the things that they are going to be buying in a store. What this means for product managers is that store shelves are still a very important place for our products to be.