Workers at automotive assembly plants are considered essential in most US states, but are not at the top of the list for early vaccine distribution.
Ford Motor Co said on Tuesday that it has ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers that can safely store Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine, a move aimed at ensuring the United States automaker’s workers have access to vaccines when they are rolled out nationally.
Ford’s purchase mirrors efforts by US states and cities to buy equipment to store millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine at temperatures of -70C (-94F), significantly below the standard for vaccines of 2-8C (36-46F).
Healthcare providers and states are preparing for new types of vaccines that have been developed by Pfizer and Moderna Inc and that require lower temperatures for storage.
“We’re doing this so that we can make the vaccine available to our employees on a voluntary basis,” Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said.
Details of how Ford will use the freezers, which are expected to be delivered by year-end, are still being worked out, she said.
Assembly workers are considered essential in most US states, but not at the top of the list for vaccines, which are expected to be distributed first to healthcare workers and nursing home residents.
Automakers have been largely able to avoid the spread of the coronavirus among hourly workers in their assembly plants after a two-month shutdown earlier in the year, but COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations are spiking in the US, especially in the Midwest.
Felker did not know which company is supplying Ford with the freezers. Major manufacturers include Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc, PHC Corp of North America, Stirling Ultracold, Helmer Scientific and Luxembourg’s B Medical Systems.
Some specialty freezer makers have warned of months-long waits for units.
Ford, which decided to buy the freezers on its own and is not working with other companies or states, did not disclose how much it spent, but the specialised freezers required by Pfizer’s vaccine can cost $5,000 to $15,000 each, according to industry officials.
General Motors Co said it had not purchased freezers at this time. “We are taking steps to be prepared to make vaccines available to our employees when the time is right and vaccines are available to us,” GM spokesman Patrick Morrissey said.
Officials at Toyota Motor Corp, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the United Auto Workers union, which represents most US hourly workers at Detroit, Michigan-based automaking plants, did not have an immediate comment. Michigan state health officials could not immediately be reached for comment.