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Meyzieu (France) (AFP)
The only national freezer supplier with the ability to stock new vaccines for Covid-19 is still in the dark about France’s vaccination strategy and is working hard to meet the foreseeable surge in demand.
In the past few days, orders have been received at the Froilabo headquarters in Meyzieu (Greater Lyon). From foreign countries. But not out of the hexagon yet.
“It consults with us. The other Europeans are much more specific. Decision-making is faster there,” noted the company’s CEO Christophe Roux.
“We haven’t received any specific orders yet,” adds Roux, although that does not rule out some of the equipment recently ordered from his company may ultimately be used to store vaccines.
If the traditional vaccines are kept well in the refrigerator, the promising vaccines developed by the American laboratories Moderna and Pfizer need to be stored at very low temperatures (-70 ° C).
Froilabo, along with a handful of other manufacturers, produces freezers that offer this type of performance with a very high level of reliability.
They are typically used to store biological specimens in case it has to be used for decades. Customers: hospitals and research centers.
With the introduction of new anti-Covid vaccines, this niche market – Mr Roux estimates French demand at around 3,000 units per 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 when we need to,” said Tony Grandmenil, administrative and financial director.
“We are triple our capacity through investments and restructuring,” adds Roux. A program that was initiated before the outbreak of the epidemic and is slated to end in February.
– Not for the local pharmacist –
Froilabo was founded in Lyon in 1918 under the name Coupié to manufacture baby incubators and today builds laboratory equipment that can produce hot and cold. Freezers make up the bulk of their production and more than half are exported.
Compared to its main competitors, the American giants Thermo Fisher Scientific, Chinese Haier and Japanese PHC, as well as the German groups Binder and Eppendorf, the French company with around 80 employees is a featherweight.
The company, which remains discreet about its economic performance, however, benefits in research from the help of its parent company, the Scottish scientific equipment group Techcomp.
In this way, the company can develop and manufacture all of its equipment in-house: a factory in Pitesti (Romania) ensures mass production, while Meyzieu’s headquarters adapts standard products to specific customer needs.
A 700 liter freezer costs around 12,000 euros. “It won’t be the local pharmacist to buy it,” notes Grandmenil.
How many doses of vaccine can these freezers hold? It all depends on the packaging used.
The largest 1,000 liter freezers made by Froilabo should hold 58,000 vials of Pfizer vaccines. At a rate of 5 doses per vial, this corresponds to approximately 290,000 doses.
It remains to be seen which logistical organization will be determined by the state, in particular how the vaccine will be transported to the end user without interrupting the cold chain.
It is further complicated by the fact that several types of vaccines are likely to be used at the same time. Vaccines do not necessarily require the same storage conditions.
© 2020 AFP