Sustainable Shippers for Ultra-Cold Conditions

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Protective external packaging ensures COVID-19 vaccines arrive safely.

With the advent of COVID-19 vaccines that require ultra-cold storage, the demand for shippers with this capability has skyrocketed. One example from CSafe Global, a shipper equipped with double-wall vacuum-insulated panels, provides 10 days of protection at -70 °C and is used by BioNTech. The container can maintain the desired temperature indefinitely with the addition of dry ice as needed. Other features include a custom payload box with a built-in handle to simplify packing and unpacking of vial trays (1).

Another ultra-low temperature (ULT) shipper is being used by Pfizer for its COVID-19 vaccines. Designed by Softbox Systems to protect the vaccines through distribution to storage at point-of-use, the reusable shipper can maintain -90 °C to -60 °C for at least 10 days if unopened. High-performance insulation materials and dry ice ensure long-term ULT control. Based on current guidelines, the Softbox ULT Shipper can be opened twice a day for up to three minutes at a time. This allows clinicians at point-of-use sites to access the vaccine vials required for each day’s immunization clinics without exposing the remaining vaccine in the shipper to ambient temperatures (2).

When correctly managed and topped off with dry ice, the ULT Shipper protects vaccines for more than 30 days. Kevin Valentine, CEO of Softbox Systems, explained in a press release that the company worked with Pfizer during 2020 to develop the ULT shipper. In addition to establishing a fleet of reusable temperature-controlled parcel shippers, Softbox Systems set up two service centers to support ULT shipper refurbishment (2).

A dry-ice-free ULT option, the PC-21 shipper from Thermal Custom Packaging, maintains -21 °C. Reusable, nontoxic phase-change materials help maintain the required temperature, eliminate the need for dry ice, ice in general, or gel packs, and can make many trips. Three sizes of insulated reusable totes can transport between 350 and 2100 vaccine doses at a time (3). This same transport system with phase-change materials designed to maintain 0 °C can be used to store the Moderna vaccine for 30 days or the Pfizer vaccine for five days (4).

A recyclable/compostable cooler from Vericool also offers ULT performance. Designed to hold eight to 16 syringe doses, the shipper maintains temperatures of -70 °C (-94 °F) to -20 °C (-4 °F) for up to 96 hours (5).

Monitoring temperatures through the supply chain plays a vital role in ensuring ULT shippers are performing as expected and no temperature abuse has occurred. The iOn Xtreme Temperature Tag, a smart sensor tag from Cal/Amp, monitors temperatures as low as -270 °C and provides end-to-end supply chain visibility of pharmaceuticals, vaccines, biological materials, and liquid nitrogen. When affixed to an asset or container, the tag captures proximity location and ambient temperature readings at a user-defined logging rate, which is configurable from an intuitive user interface. A proprietary Bluetooth Low Energy signal transmits the data to CalAmp SC iOn gateway devices. The captured data is securely communicated to the Cloud in real-time from the warehouse, during transport, and from the final destination, making the information instantly available to confirm that temperature-sensitive products have been handled properly (6).



1. CSafe Global, “CSafe Global Providing Thermal Protection for COVID-19 Vaccine Shipments from BioNTech Facility,” Press Release, May 5, 2021.

2. Softbox Systems, “Softbox Successfully Supports Pfizer in the Global Cold Chain Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccines,” Press Release, March 10, 2021.

3. Thermal Custom Packaging, “As the Deadly COVID-19 Delta Variant Spreads, State Agencies, School Districts, and Major Hospital Groups Turn to Thermal Custom Packaging (TCP) Totes and Chemical Reactions to Maintain Refrigerated and Frozen Temperatures,” Press Release, Aug. 24, 2021.

4. Thermal Custom Packaging, “With Omicron Variant on the Rise, Thermal Custom Packaging (TCP) is Providing Secure Transportation of COVID Vaccine,” Press Release, Jan. 4, 2022.

5. Vericool, “Vericool Launching Vaccine Recyclable and Compostable Shipping Cooler,” Press Release, Nov. 20, 2020.

6. CalAmp, “CalAmp Releases New iOn Xtreme Temperature Tag to Monitor Pharmaceutical and Biological Shipments,” Press Release, Aug. 19, 2021.