Dry ice in hot demand for vaccine storage


AKRON, Ohio — Gehm and Sons is an Akron-based company with a cool past, hoping its very cold product will help provide a brighter future for Ohioans growing increasingly weary from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We went from a horse-and-buggy shop in the early 1900s to a carbonic gas distribution company. In the mid-’40s, we went to dry ice,” said co-owner, Harry Gehm.

The company makes about six million pounds of dry ice each year, utilizing carbon dioxide and a block press to make 55-pound cubes. A pellet press slices the blocks into smaller chunks, which are then stored in boxes that can hold about 1,200 pounds of dry ice pellets.

Demand for dry ice is hot after Pfizer announced its vaccine would need long-term storage at minus 94 degrees. Long-term storage for Moderna’s vaccine would be minus four degrees. The temperature of the dry ice manufactured at Gehm and Sons is minus 109 degrees.

The company has recently received about 15 calls from hospitals, stores like Giant Eagle, and the Ohio Department of Health ready to place large orders of dry ice in order to effectively store vaccine vials.

“When these hospitals get it (the vaccine), they’re going to need dry ice within a matter of days, so they have to be set up way ahead of time so they are ready to receive a shipment,” he said.

Gehm expects the rush on dry ice will boost sales by 10 to 15%.

The business was informed that ODH was preparing to order 15,000 pounds of dry ice per week.

“They’re asking for between 25 to 50 pounds per container. I don’t know how many vials are in each container, but that’s what they’re requesting,” Gehm said.

Gehm believes his company is the only Ohio manufacturer of dry ice, and for that reason, he feels the order calls will keep rolling in.

“I’m imagining it’s going to last for a few months especially when they said these vaccines are a double dose, so that means it’s going to take twice the time,” he said.

News 5 reached out Ohio Department of Health with several questions about how the state plans to store vaccine vials and how those will eventually be distributed. As of Wednesday evening, a spokesperson said she was working on getting those answers.

In the meantime, Gehm said he’s glad his company with a rich history will play a role in protecting the critical vaccine for residents.

“It’s just neat. It’s exciting. It’s a new avenue. It’s a new adventure.”

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