Will There Be a Medical Freezer and Refrigerator Shortage?

  • by Kevin Driggers
  • Feb 12, 2021, 06:08 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in demand for medical and laboratory freezers. The newest Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine requires a storage temperature well below what the average medical freezer can accommodate. The supply of ultra-low temperature medical freezers has been hit hard by these new vaccine storage requirements.  Could you be left out when everyone is forced to upgrade their freezers at the same time? Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prepare and stay ahead of the upcoming supply crunch. 

The Tight Medical Supply Chain That COVID Creates

The beginning of the pandemic led to the unfortunate situations where states had to compete against each other for protective equipment like N95 masks for healthcare workers as well as ventilators and lab testing equipment. All signs are pointing to a similar harsh reality where medical freezers will be in short supply. The shortage is owing to the ultra-low temperature storage needs that the newest COVID vaccines require.

The existing medical freezer infrastructure lacks widespread support for the new COVID vaccines. Modern medical freezers will need to store doses of Pfizer's vaccine (which everyone will need 2 doses of) at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius (-94°F).  The new mRNA vaccines are more delicate than their predecessors, requiring much lower temperatures to prevent deterioration. Typical medical-grade freezers don't reach temperatures that cold. The standard for vaccines has been to store them at around 2-8 degrees Celsius (36-46°F). Without proper ultra-low temperature medical freezers, the new era of vaccine distribution will be a logistical mess.

Cracks in the medical freezer supply chain are starting to appear for some regional producers. Some specialty medical freezer producers are warning of waits for units that begin at two months long as the surging demand for medical-grade ultra-low temperatures has strained smaller manufacturers. The Midwest has been a consistent supplier for medical freezers, but many Midwestern manufacturers have said that the production of new orders wouldn't be completed until sometime later in 2021. 

Are Your Existing Medical Freezers Up To The Task?

Medical facilities may have some ultra-low temperature freezers to store tissue samples or biopsies. But are these modern enough to handle the workload that novel new vaccines and other biologically sensitive samples require? Being up to date would require your freezers to handle extremely low temperatures while not costing a prohibitive amount to operate. Let's look at a few things to consider when seeing if your existing freezers are up to the task.

Some Questions To Ask About Your Existing Freezers

1. Can your existing medical freezer offer a wider temperature range (as far down as -85°C)? Your freezer's operating performance is tuned to a specific range that might not be cold enough.  

2. Is your existing medical freezer infrastructure able to work in the ambient temperatures required by your environment? Or do you have to actively cool your work environment for the sake of not stressing your freezers? Every aspect of your environment can impact your medical equipment. Ambient cooling requirements are needed to avoid extra strain on your medical supplies but add additional costs. You might find that your total cost of ownership will be lower by purchasing a newer and more efficient medical freezer.

3. Does your existing medical freezer still use a compressor? A compressor is expected to fail at some point in its lifetime. Compressors are noisy, always cycling from off to an on state repeatedly to regulate temperatures. This cycling also creates the unfortunate side effect of fluctuating freezer temperatures. Newer medical freezers can maintain a steady temperature state without the added complexities that a compressor brings to the setup. These new freezers feature temperature regulation engines that result in lower ongoing maintenance costs for the facility.

4. Do your medical freezers currently take up too much space? Are they simply not large enough to handle everything needed to be stored? New technological innovations in medical freezer design allow for these appliances to occupy a smaller footprint. Simultaneously, these freezers can hold more than older technology due to a smaller, more efficient motor. 

Smaller freezers with more efficient engines also drastically reduce your energy costs. The airflow coming out of these newer ultra-low temperature freezers are optimized and result in lower HVAC costs for your building. If you think a newer low temperature medical freezer is going to be too expensive, consider the overall cost when comparing them to your existing freezers. Energy and ongoing maintenance costs must be factored in. Not doing so means you're comparing apples to oranges. You'll actually end up with a lower lifetime cost of operation with a newer, more efficient freezer when averaged over your sample capacity.

What Are Some Benefits of Upgrading Your Medical Freezer Technology?

You'll be getting the latest innovations when you upgrade your medical freezer technology. New buyers can expect better's temperature stability throughout their freezer. That is, the temperatures measured in the center of the interior cabin will not fluctuate from the temperatures near the edges. 

Additionally, door open recovery is much quicker when there is a momentary disturbance in the temperature. For example, a lab technician opening and then closing an older medical freezer door would cause its compressor to cycle on and off to counter the warm ambient air rushing into the freezer interior. There are fewer temperature fluctuations with the newer freezers that don't rely on compressors.

Low and ultra-low temperature freezers will become a crucial part of the new medical supply chain. Thomasnet has reported that sourcing activity for ultra-low temperature freezers is up 522% measured year-over-year from December 2020. Whether this supply chain crunch gets worse is anyone's guess. But it looks like governments worldwide are ramping up their vaccine purchases and need a modern distribution chain to keep up. Don't be left out in the cold when all the hospitals and regional medical facilities around the country need to upgrade their freezers all at once.  We have a selection of the best medical freezers on the market today to help you get a head start on upgrading your medical freezers before everyone else does.


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