Published on: Modified:
Meyzieu (France) (AFP)
Still in the dark about France’s vaccine strategy, the only national freezer supplier that can store new Covid-19 vaccines is working hard to meet the predictable surge in demand.
For a few days now, orders have begun arriving at Froilabo’s headquarters in Meyzieu (Lyon metropolitan area). From abroad. But not yet from the Hexagon.
“With us, it’s consulting. Other Europeans are much more concrete. The decision-making process is faster there,” notes the company’s CEO Christophe Roux.
“We have not yet received specific orders” from France, Mr Roux adds, although this does not exclude that some of the equipment recently ordered by his company may eventually be used to store vaccines.
If the traditional vaccines keep well in the fridge, those, very promising ones, developed by the American laboratories Moderna and Pfizer, need to be stored at very low temperatures (-70 °).
Along with a handful of other manufacturers, Froilabo produces freezers that can achieve this kind of performance with a very high degree of reliability.
They are usually used to store biological samples, if needed for decades. Customers: hospitals and research centers.
With the advent of new anti-Covid vaccines, this niche market – Mr Roux estimates France’s demand should be around 3,000 units a year – should explode.
“While there is still a lot of uncertainty, we have the products, we have the technology and we make sure we are ready if we need it,” notes Tony Grandmenil, director of administration and finance.
“We are tripling our capabilities through investments and reorganization,” adds Mr. Roux. A program begun before the onset of the epidemic and due to end in February.
– Not for the local pharmacist –
Established in 1918 in Lyon under the name Coupié to manufacture baby incubators, Froilabo today builds laboratory devices capable of producing hot and cold. Freezers represent most of its production, exported for more than half.
Compared to its main competitors, the American giants Thermo Fisher Scientific, Chinese Haier and Japanese PHC, and even the German groups Binder and Eppendorf, the French company is a featherweight, with about 80 employees .
However, the firm, which remains unaware of its economic performance, benefits in research from the support of its parent company, the Scottish scientific equipment group Techcomp.
So it can develop and manufacture all its own equipment: a factory in Pitesti (Romania) ensures mass production, while Meyzieu’s head office adapts standard products to customers’ specific needs.
A 700-liter freezer costs around 12,000 euros. “It’s not the local pharmacist who can buy it”, points out Mr Grandmenil.
How many doses of vaccine can these freezers hold? It all depends on the packaging used.
The largest refrigerators manufactured by Froilabo, with a capacity of 1,000 liters, should be able to accommodate 58,000 vials of the “Pfizer type” vaccine. This represents, at a rate of 5 doses per vase, approximately 290,000 doses.
He remains familiar with the logistical organization that will be determined by the State, and must specifically determine how the vaccine will be carried to the end user without breaking the cold chain.
It is further complicated by the fact that several types of vaccine are likely to be used at the same time. Vaccines do not necessarily require the same storage conditions.
© 2020 AFP