Containers Used for Ebola Vaccines Could Help With COVID-19

Developed to reach rural areas during the Ebola outbreak, these containers keep vaccines cold for days without needing power.
Fabienne Lang
One of the ultra-cold vaccine storage contraptionsArktek

A giant thermos capable of maintaining arctic temperatures for weeks on end without any power may be the answer to keeping and distributing vaccines safely for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Welcome Arktek, an oversized container with incredibly tight insulation that keeps its inside temperature well below freezing temperatures even under the scorching sun for weeks on end. 

As Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine needs storing temperatures between -94 to -112 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 and -80 degrees Celcius), this may be the solution for widespread distribution — especially in remote and hot regions. 

How does Arktek work 

Widely used during the Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2015, Arktek was given the nickname "the keg of life," by Bill Gates who was part of its founding origins through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Intellectual Ventures, and the Chinese refrigeration supplier, AUCMA.

The design is a super-insulated container that is leak-light and can store vaccines safely at required below zero temperatures for up to 6.5 days or more with outside temperatures of up to 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). 

No external power supply is needed, making it optimal for remote areas that are extremely hot. Arktek's container can work with blocks of frozen ice, or phase-change material (PCM) placed in its center. The latter is the enabler for ultra-cold and longer storage in hot conditions. 

Containers Used for Ebola Vaccines Could Help With COVID-19
The Arktek cooler being used in Guinea in 2015, it can keep temperatures as low as -112 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 days, even after being opened multiple times. Source: WHO

Arktek containers have a 330 cubic inch (5.4 liters) capacity, and a gross weight of 94 pounds (43 kg), so they are easily transportable. They can be placed on the back of motorcycles, canoes, camels, and more. This makes them especially useful for hard-to-reach areas that aren't always accessible by road.