Tobin Scientific and PHCbi Collaborate on Solution for Regional Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccine to Address Ultra Low Temperature Requirements


BEVERLY, Mass.– Tobin Scientific and PHCbi have today announced a collaboration that is designed to address the unique transportation requirements of one of the lead COVID-19 vaccines. The solution uses Tobin trailers fitted with PHCbi’s ultra-low temperature freezers to ensure that the vaccine is maintained at the correct temperature throughout transit.

Following the announcement last week that Pfizer and partner, BioNTech, had submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of their coronavirus vaccine, there have been ongoing discussions about proposed distribution models capable of sustaining the -70°C temperature required to maintain efficacy.

One of the most talked-about solutions is the use of a special cooler, or “thermal shipper,” with real-time GPS and thermal monitoring that can maintain deep-freeze vaccine storage for 10 days if left unopened. While in theory this modality represents a potential distribution solution, it is one fraught with potential for failure. Dry ice is difficult to handle, limited in supply, and has an 18-24-hour half-life. Should the thermal shipper fail or be compromised, that leaves a window of 18-24 hours from point of origin, to allow for transit to the airport, departure, flight time, arrival at destination, offload, splitting of pallets, and loading to individual trucks to drive to sites administering vaccinations. Moreover, mRNA by nature, comes with its own inherent handling challenges, and the fragile thermal sensors used in this type of packaging could provide inconsistent and unreliable readings. All of this is cause for concern, before even addressing the considerable challenge posed by specialized staffing requirements to handle these shipments on the scale that would be required.

The Tobin Scientific team and PHC Corporation of North America (formerly Panasonic Healthcare) have collaborated to jointly develop a distribution solution that they believe is far more reliable. The solution uses local, regionalized freezer-to-freezer delivery routes on Tobin’s specialized, back-up generator-powered and redundant, temperature-controlled trailers. The trailer units are outfitted with 220v electrical plugs for PHCbi brand freezers to ensure temperature continuity. Tobin’s trailers utilize their patented IQ/OQ cGMP/cGLP calibrated temperature monitoring systems with real-time, live readings recorded locally, in-cab, and transmitted over cell service. With each selected PHCbi brand freezer able to hold approximately 140,000 doses, this would put trailer capacity at 1 million doses across the entire fleet of specialized trailers. Regional distribution routes will be able to dispatch from Tobin’s scalable biorepository, strategically located 20 miles outside of Boston and 25 minutes from Logan airport. Daily routes to and from Logan would receive pallet loads of vaccine for storage at the Tobin biorepository, ready for redistribution on the daily routes.

“We’re pleased to partner with Tobin Scientific to address a vital need: the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine without the need for dry ice. Combining the unmatched reliability and temperature uniformity of PHCbi freezers, along with the specialized logistics experience of Tobin, we’re confident we have developed a robust and effective distribution solution. This represents a critical piece of the vaccine distribution puzzle. PHCbi and Tobin Scientific are able to combine our core strengths to meet the requirements of our customers and society in addressing this critical healthcare need,” said PHCbi’s Vice President Murray Wigmore.

“Amidst this historic challenge we, at Tobin Scientific, are very encouraged to be partnering with PHCbi. The rock-solid, performance and reliability of their condenser-based freezers make transport in Tobin vehicles possible. Together, we will play an integral role in the successful distribution of vaccine via our model for regional route vaccine redistribution. As our state-to-state commitments expand, PHCbi’s ability to fulfill the demand for freezers will also be key to the successful execution of this model,” remarked Tobin Scientific’s Vice President, Brian Tobin.