Tennessee is preparing to distribute the Pfizer vaccine to combat COVID-19 after the state’s first shipments arrived in Memphis on Sunday, and Lebanon is going to be a key player thanks to Cold Chain Technologies.
The thermal packaging company expanded into Lebanon and entered full production in November. Its units can store vaccines at temperatures below -70 degrees Celsius, which means they can stay potent while traveling around the country.
“All these vaccines and biologics, they have to be maintained at a very small, narrow band of temperature,” Cold Chain Technologies CEO Ranjeet Banerjee said during a news conference held Monday. “It can’t get cooler, it can’t get warmer and it goes through millions of miles in different ambient conditions … we have put close to a billion units equally of vaccine doses a year of capacity here in Lebanon, thinking on an annual basis.”
Lebanon’s health care workers are hoping to begin vaccinating high-risk groups in the area by the end of December. As of Tuesday, there were 1,283 active COVID-19 cases in Wilson County, and 101 residents have died from the virus.
Communities around the state and the country are in similar situations, and Banerjee wants to see the pandemic dealt curbed within 9-12 months as vaccine distribution ramps up.
“We’ve been making the thermal packaging solutions for over 50 years, and this isn’t the first time that we’ve been involved in vaccine distribution,” Cold Chain Technologies Chief Commercial Officer Anthony Rizzo said. “As part of our normal business, we work with flu manufactures and other vaccine manufacturers every single year to help support the public health. We also helped during H1N1 in our facility in LaVergne down the road, building supplies to help support the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine back in 2009.”
CCT plans to maintain those kinds of operations in Lebanon post-pandemic, but for now the company’s focus is fully on COVID-19. Its largest units can hold a pallet with roughly 250,000 to 500,000 vaccine doses and will be shipped out to vaccine manufacturers, along with smaller units in different sizes for trips from storage to local hospitals.
“What we have prepared for is the ability to give us the flexibility to design different boxes and support this whole flexible nature of the demand that we are seeing, Banerjee said. “We have one vaccine that is approved as of late, hopefully if all goes well the second one will be approved this week … and then there’s a host of others down the line.”
Although the nation has plans for vaccine development and distribution in place, the public remains divided. A survey from the Pew Research Center released Dec. 3 found that roughly 60% of U.S. adults intend take a vaccine and nearly 40% do not.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn is confident the FDA will not allow any unsafe products to go to the marketplace and said their approval of the Pfizer vaccine is significant.
“I think people are very hopeful that the vaccine is going to begin to lead us out and to a recovery point,” she said. “Now that we have a vaccine with Pfizer and Moderna, and then you’ve got two more that are in the pipeline, people are saying we are the USA and we can do this.”
Rep. John Rose said the vaccine’s quick development time is because of the Trump administration’s ongoing Operation Warp Speed, which was officially announced in May. That initiative is aimed at fast-tracking vaccines by encouraging public-private partnerships and scaling up manufacturing.
“It normally takes as many as eight to 12 years to develop a vaccine,” Rose said. “In this case, Project Warp Speed harnessing the entrepreneurism and innovation of American industry, we’ve done that in less than a year. Truly remarkable, helping our country get back on its feet and helping our economy return to the great economy we had at the beginning of 2020.”
Banerjee said his company welcomes the opportunity to be a part of that effort and hopes to see an impact on communities within a year.
“We feel honored, we feel privileged to be part of this whole effort to combat this pandemic,” he said. “And more than that, we are very committed. We are extremely committed to making sure that in the next 9 months to 12 months this is behind us. We have to do that for all we hold near and dear to our hearts.”