As talk of a possible COVID-19 vaccine has increased in recent weeks, so have logistical questions regarding the storage and distribution of such a vaccine. 

Those questions raise some obvious concerns, including the question of how to mass distribute a vaccine that must be kept extremely cold at all times. Stirling Ultracold, a company located in The Plains, at 6000 Poston Station Rd., is remedying some of those concerns with the production of its ultra-low temperature, or ULT, freezers. 

Shea Vincent, senior director of marketing at Stirling Ultracold, said there are three main reasons why the company is uniquely suited for handling the tremendous undertaking of storing the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The first reason is simple: Stirling Ultracold has the ability to manufacture units that can handle these kinds of temperatures.

“We have the only units that can span the entire ultracold gamut,” Vincent said. “Regardless of what vaccine actually gets released first … whether it’s Moderna at negative 20 (degrees) or the Pfizer vaccine at negative 80 (degrees), we really cover the entire span.” 

The second reason is rooted in the diversity of the freezers that Stirling Ultracold produces. Its ULT freezers come in three models — upright, portable and undercounter — each of which are being utilized by different companies with different applications. 

“Big box pharmacies are talking about the undercounter model just because it fits so well with the freezers or with the refrigerators that they already have,” Vincent said. “UPS just announced that (the portable model) is basically an alternative to dry ice, so that's going to be used a lot more for a mobile approach. And then they did standardize on our upright freezers for their freezer farms.” 

The last reason goes hand-in-hand with the diversity of Stirling Ultracold products, which is the simplicity of use for all of the freezers, especially when taking into account the issues of using dry ice. 

“It's a little nerve wracking because dry ice has a lot of handling characteristics and safety and risk associated with it, and I don't think a lot of these centers have been set up to be able to manage, handle or restock dry ice,” Vincent said. “This is a simple appliance that they can receive, they can plug in, it doesn't require a lot of training and they can do what they do best, which is administer vaccines.” 

Due to Stirling Ultracold’s important work, the company’s connection to Ohio University is quite advantageous. 

For more than a decade, OU has supported Stirling Ultracold through the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs’ TechGROWTH Ohio program, Lynn Gellerman, executive director of TechGROWTH Ohio and associate dean of the Voinovich School, said. 

“This support has included: intensive startup services to initially launch and grow the company, securing external funding resources, recruiting executive talent in the company’s early stages of development, and providing seed-stage capital investment and advisory service on the company’s board of directors,” Gellerman said in an email. 

The relationship between OU and Stirling Ultracold is based on the notion of mutualism, where both parties benefit greatly as a result of collaboration. 

“The company has supported Ohio University in many ways over the years,” Gellerman said in an email. “Stirling Ultracold has provided many employment opportunities to University graduates. The company has also provided student internships and has been a key participant in several of the University’s entrepreneurship and technology commercialization programs. Additionally, the company has provided a few of its ULT freezers to Ohio University’s Innovation Center so entrepreneurs and faculty researchers could access this technology.” 

Stirling Ultracold has also maintained connections to larger companies — namely UPS — as a result of its success. 

UPS announced that they were working closely with Stirling Ultracold to provide ULT freezers to companies who need them in a November press release

“These portable freezers will be distributed and used in smaller point of care facilities requiring a more permanent solution for longer term freezer storage,” according to the press release. “UPS will be working with Stirling to offer the Stirling ULT25 and Undercounter Model SU105 to thermally protect critical vaccines requiring ultra-low temperatures ranging anywhere from -20°C to -80°C.” 

No matter the timeline for a vaccine or the company that prevails in offering one across the U.S. first, Stirling Ultracold is ready and confident. 

“Each day, the confidence level grows,” Vincent said. “We're getting a lot of attention for help with … making sure that these vaccines stay effective and viable so that we can get through this pandemic as quickly as possible across the world.”

@ryanlmaxin

rm554219@ohio.edu