When the nation welcomed the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine with headlines and jubilation in December, few knew that the box keeping the vials viable at subzero temperatures came from Greenville, the site of Softbox’s growing North American headquarters.
At the time, a client confidentiality agreement shrouded Softbox’s role in the distribution network, as reported in our Dec. 22 story, but today, Pfizer lauded the company for its role making the vaccine accessible to millions of people across the country.
“Softbox’s extensive knowledge and experience in temperature control packaging solutions and the cold chain industry was the right choice for us,” Tanya Alcorn, vice president of Pfizer’s biopharma global supply chain, said in today’s announcement. “They immediately understood the unprecedented task at hand that was in front of us with the distribution of the vaccine, and quickly started to work with us to develop a unique packaging system that does not waste any precious vaccine and creates a seamless experience for customers.”
Pfizer’s mRNA-based vaccines must be stored at between minus 90 degrees celsius to minus 60 degrees celsius which presented what Softbox Marketing Director Clive Bryant called a “massive challenge” in light of the “torrid scenario” created by supply chain slowdowns last year.
The packaging company was well acquainted with the unique shipping demands of the biopharma industry, however, and developed a reusable ultra-low temperature shipper able to chill Pfizer’s vaccines at the optimum temperature in dry ice for at least 10 days if left unopened. When stored in the right conditions, the box could remain at -90°C to -60°C for up to 30 days.
“Their technical capabilities and innovative approach helped us achieve an excellent result in a very short period of time,” Alcorn said in the release.
Between Dec. 14 and March 9, Pfizer distributed 77.7 million doses of the vaccine across the United States and 1.1 million doses to South Carolina, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are immensely proud to be playing such an important role in the fight against COVID-19,” Kevin Valentine, CEO of Softbox, said in the news release. “We worked extremely hard during 2020 to help Pfizer develop this highly innovative ULT shipper, establishing one of the world’s largest fleets of reusable temperature-controlled parcel shippers in the process and setting up two world-class service centers to support ULT shipper refurbishment.”
In December, John Hammes, Softbox general manager for the Americas, indicated that the UK-based company had plans to expand its 350 Frontage Road facility by 55,000 square feet soon, as the current 65,000-square-foot facility was operating above 95% capacity.
“Additionally, we work with off-site vendors for key projects that demand additional space, and at our growth rate, we’re looking at another 100,000 plus square feet in the near future,” he told GSA Business Report.
The expansion would also bring additional jobs to the Greenville market like the 70 expected from the company’s move to its current location in 2018.
The facility houses Softbox’s U.S. executive team, production line, distribution warehouse and a fully-equipped laboratory, according to a 2017 S.C. Commerce Department announcement.