Cold safes for the vaccine

Man knows this from everyday life: some foods have to be transported home in a cooling container. Because if the ice cream and salmon fillet get too warm, they will spoil quickly. The situation is similar with the current corona vaccines. In Upper Franconia, people have painfully learned that a normal household cool box is not enough for their transport. There, at the beginning of the vaccination campaign, numerous doses of the already scarce Biontech vaccine had to be destroyed because they had not been adequately cooled in the last few meters.

It could have been different – for example with a product from Hessen. The Darmstadt-based start-up Tec4med produces containers that can keep medicines, vaccine serums and other temperature-sensitive goods frozen for several days. They are also suitable for the cold-loving Covid-19 vaccine from Biontech. Tec4med has developed a box called “Nelum-Box” for this purpose, which is specially designed for “the last mile” that the substance has to travel to the vaccination site. “The special thing is: Anyone can use it easily,” says Nico Höler, Managing Director of Tec4med.

All it takes is a push of a button. “Then it beeps and the box tells you what to do, even if you are not an expert in refrigerated transport.” This makes it easier for the employees of the mobile vaccination team to use. Equipped with 48-hour batteries, the box can also be permanently monitored with the help of software and sensors. Not only the location is documented, but also who opened it and when, or whether the cold chain is working.

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Inquiries with a seven-digit order volume

In the past few weeks Tec4med has received inquiries from counties in Germany and several European countries with a seven-digit order volume, reports Höler. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) is interested in the Darmstadt technology. A partner company made contact.

The company Tec4med, founded in 2017 by Höler and two college friends, was already dedicated to the transport of sensitive refrigerated goods when the world did not yet know about the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Co-founder Martin Voigt worked as a courier when he was a student and, among other things, transported doping samples from sporting events to laboratories. He noticed that the transport in single-use boxes not only produced a lot of rubbish, but was also tricky as soon as the schedule got mixed up and the contents threatened to get warm. So he developed a cold box prototype in the garage.

This resulted in Tec4med, the company now has a dozen employees. The boxes from Darmstadt were well received in the logistics industry, but then the virus came. “We lost orders in the six-figure range,” says Höler. The founders used the involuntarily gained time for further developments. “We could imagine the temperature range in which the vaccines that were being researched would later have to be transported.” So the Darmstadt-based company, together with partners, further developed their reusable box system plus online monitoring. Tec4med now has several types of boxes: In addition to the Nelum box for “the last mile”, there are two so-called passive boxes that can keep their contents cold for 120 hours with dry ice at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius.

The boxes are manufactured by a company near Darmstadt, final assembly and function tests are carried out by Tec4med at the company’s location in the Darmstadt Tann estate. The containers are sold or rented. The Nelum-Box costs around EUR 250 rent per month; an additional, lower fee is due for using the monitoring software. The purchase price is 3500 euros, depending on the use, a box lasts for at least five, sometimes ten years, assures Höler.

The demand has increased worldwide

The start-up currently has several hundred containers in stock, and soon it will be a four-digit number. Production is in full swing, and demand has increased not only at Tec4med, but worldwide. This also applies to components such as electronics. If interested parties have taken care of their order too late, there are sometimes waiting times.

“And then something happens like in Bavaria that people resort to camping cool bags due to a lack of alternatives,” suspects Höler. In the Hessian Main-Taunus-Kreis, on the other hand, things should not get that far: In future, corona vaccines will be brought to the vaccinees in Nelum boxes by Tec4med. The corresponding order was received in Darmstadt last week.

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