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Akron dry ice maker expects sales boom from ultra-cold storage of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine

The company, founded more than 120 years ago, is now the sole manufacturer of dry ice in Northeast Ohio.

AKRON, Ohio — With the Food and Drug Administration's emergency use approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, hospitals and pharmacies will now be challenged to properly store and transport the life-saving vials at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit.

It's why a longtime Akron company is expecting a business boom. At Gehm & Sons on the city's east side, the phones keep ringing from health departments and pharmacies anxious to know about supplies of the necessary product to keep the vaccine super-chilled: solid carbon dioxide, better known as "dry ice."

"Yeah, I'm the Ice Man," owner Harry Gehm said with a grin. His 120-year-old family business started as wagon shop in the late 1800s, then evolved into a soft drink company and CO2 supplier.

In 2016, the company shifted to manufacturing dry ice, and four years later, Gehm's company is about to play a critical role in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.

"When in my lifetime will dry ice play as important of a role as this," Gehm reflected.

However, there will be challenges like his company has never seen before, because of the nature of the product.

"It can't be inventoried," said Gehm, explaining that 25 pounds of dry ice would "melt" or sublimate to CO2 vapor in mere days. That's why the product has to be made to order, and customers need to be aware that their supplies will have to be refilled every few days.

Currently, Gehm & Sons is able to produce 25,000 pounds of dry ice a day. However, getting the supplies to customers in a short window of time will be the biggest challenge.

"The logistics will be a nightmare," Gehm told 3News, adding he's prepared to hire more trucks and manpower to meet the increased demand. Right now, though, it's a wait and see situation.

"Once they get the vaccines rolling, I'll be ready to take the calls," he declared.