Vail Health Hospital pharmacy pharmacist Jessica Peterson, left, places two boxes of mock Covid-19 vaccines into the hospital’s ultra-cold freezer at the hospital on December 8, 2020 in Vail, Colorado. The mock vaccines are packaged in the thermal shipping containers that uses dry ice to maintain a temperature of between -60 to -86 degrees Celsius to keep the vaccines cold. Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesThe Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines must both be kept in extremely cold conditions, necessitating the use of dry ice to deliver and store the vaccines.

Dry ice is also heavily used in the cheese-making industry where dairy cultures must be kept cold to avoid spoilage.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced on Wednesday that he would be appropriating up to $3.25 million in funding from the CARES Act to support the state’s nine ethanol plants. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the ethanol creation process and can be turned into dry ice.

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In a press conference on Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that competition for dry ice may occur between companies shipping novel coronavirus vaccines and cheese and dairy manufacturers.

It could be “The great cheese/vaccine wars of 2021,” one person tweeted in response.

 

Dry ice, the colloquial term for frozen carbon dioxide, is commonly used in the food industry to keep ingredients at a low temperature for cross-country travel. A block of dry ice has a temperature of about -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or -78 degrees Celsius – much colder than the average freezer or a standard ice cube made of water.

Supplies of dry ice are now in high demand as the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is set to begin around the United States. Pfizer, a pharmaceutical corporation, is expected to have the first coronavirus vaccine cleared by US regulators. Unlike most vaccines however, Pfizer’s is required to be shipped and stored at -70 degrees Celcius. 

Moderna, a biotech company, also produced a coronavirus vaccine and recently applied for emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to begin vaccine distribution. Moderna’s vaccine is not required to be kept in as cold of an environment as Pfizer’s, but will still require copious amounts of dry ice to store and ship across the country.

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On Wednesday morning, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced his plan to use up to $3.25 million in funding from the CARES Act to support the state’s nine ethanol producers. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of ethanol production and can later be processed into dry ice.

ASCO Carbon Dioxide Ltd, a Swiss dry ice manufacturing company providing pelletized dry ice to customers worldwide, told Insider in an email the company is “getting a lot of inquiries for dry ice production solutions by pharmaceutical firms.”

The company said it is also receiving inquiries from logistics companies that are expecting to deliver the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The challenge is that they need huge amounts of dry ice in a very short timeframe,” the company said.

As Minnesota’s governor alluded to on Tuesday, the increase in demand for dry ice could interrupt the cheese and dairy industries which also rely on dry ice.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association recently appealed to state and federal officials to reserve the necessary 350,000 pounds of dry ice every week to keep up with the demand. 

Rebekah Sweeney, the communications education and policy director for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, explained to Insider that dry ice is essential to the cheese-making industry.

“Dairy cultures have to be kept in a super frozen state to be viable and culture manufacturers and their distributors use 350,000 pounds of dry ice per week to supply worldwide,” Sweeney said. She also mentioned the dairy industry uses dry ice to package and distribute its products around the world and is responsible for $620 billion of economic impact in the US alone.

But with proper action, which Sweeney says the governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin are currently taking, she’s not concerned about the industry.

“It’s amazing to hear that things seem to be taken seriously and it seems like people are rising up to meet that challenge,” Sweeney said.

Dan Geiger contributed reporting.

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