Chinese vaccine cold-chain suppliers see order boom from US
Global Times

Chinese makers of cold-chain equipment for medical use are running at full swing to meet booming orders from pandemic-hit countries such as the US, with a looming shortage of cryogenic storage freezers.

Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: VCG

The shortage has come with the release of the detailed analysis of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting that it needs to be stored in an environment of -70 C, an unusual requirement for vaccine storage.

The US has run out of cryogenic storage freezers, and some Chinese enterprises have seen a surge in orders, media reported, suggesting that medical-grade products that meet the storage and transportation requirements of vaccines will face a serious shortage in the short term.

Industry insiders that the Global Times reached on Sunday confirmed that export orders, especially from the US, have been rising since the announcement of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which highlights special requirements for vaccine preservation.

"Demand is up, but production capacity is not sufficient, partly because the US is in the midst of the pandemic, and whether its production capacity for cold-chain vaccine transport can keep up with demand is still questionable," Qin Yuming, secretary general of the cold chain logistics professional committee of the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, told the Global Times on Sunday. The mismatch is why orders are rising.

Pfizer has released limited data, saying recently that an analysis of 94 confirmed cases indicated an efficacy rate above 90 percent. The company plans to apply for emergency authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration in late November and claimed it can manufacture doses for 15 to 20 million people by year-end, the New York Times reported.

With vaccines apparently about to hit the market, a marketing director at Meiling Biology & Medical surnamed Shi told the Global Times on Sunday that there has been booming demand for relevant products from the North American market and the company is preparing for it.

"Since Pfizer said its vaccine has to be restored at -70 C. we have been receiving orders from abroad with the corresponding requirements," said Shi.

As a leading cold-chain supplier based in East China's Anhui Province, the company has proprietary technology for cryogenic cores, which perform well and offer value-for-money at the world level.

However, the transportation conditions for Pfizer-BioNTech's novel coronavirus vaccine are relatively tough. Other vaccines only need to be kept at 2-8 C, which puts pressure on the current production line.

 "Supply is tight but we will increase production capacity to meet demand from abroad," noted Shi.

A retailer of Aucma, a refrigeration equipment supplier, on Alibaba's business-to-business platform, said that sales of medical ultra-low temperature freezers are going well ahead of the roll-of several COVID-19 vaccines, and order volumes are quite high.

"China's containment of the pandemic enables it to achieve rapid resumption in production capacity that supports pandemic control in the domestic market and abroad," Qin said, and many domestic suppliers have world-leading production and technical advantages.

According to Global Market Insight, referred in a report by China's Haier Biomedical, the global biological medical cryogenic storage market in 2018 reached $2.74 billion, and is expected to reach $3.64 billion in 2025. The market for biological medical cryogenic storage in China could reach $207 million in 2025, with an expected average annual compound growth rate of 5.22 percent, higher than the expected global rate of 4.13 percent. 

In addition to Meiling Biology & Medical, other Chinese enterprises such as Aucma and Fosun Pharmaceutical have mature products and experience in vaccine cold chains.

Xia Ziyan, an analyst at Founder Securities, said in a media interview that China's biomedical low-temperature storage market still has room to improve, and the industry's growth rate is higher than the world's. 

"Given the high threshold of the industry, it is not easy for general fresh cold-chain enterprises to get involved in the short term," said Xia, noting that with the help of the COVID-19 vaccine, the development of the industry is expected to accelerate.