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Panasonic to launch cold box leasing in April for COVID-19 vaccines

This supplied photo shows Panasonic Corp.'s cold box to transport coronavirus vaccines. (Kyodo)

OSAKA (Kyodo) -- Panasonic Corp. said Tuesday it will launch cold box leasing services in April for pharmaceutical and logistics companies in need of transporting coronavirus vaccines, as vaccinations are now beginning on a full scale in Japan.

    The electronics maker is aiming for sales of 10 billion yen ($94 million) in the year to March 2026 in the new business which makes use of the company's technology in vacuum insulation panels developed for use in energy-saving refrigerators.

    The box, Vixell, is capable of storing materials at a temperature of minus 75 C for up to 18 days using refrigerants such as dry ice without any electric power source.

    Panasonic said at the beginning of the services from April 1, it .will offer the box for keeping temperatures between 2 to 8 C for transporting defrosted vaccines. The company declined to disclose the leasing charges.

    Panasonic will also provide vaccine delivery services using the cold box in cooperation with Suzuken Co., a pharmaceutical wholesaler in Aichi Prefecture.

    Demand for cold boxes is picking up, as full-scale inoculation of 4.7 million health care workers will begin this week after trial vaccinations from mid-February in Japan, followed by senior citizens in April and the general population from July.

    The vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE -- the only COVID-19 vaccine so far approved for use in Japan -- has to be stored at minus 70 C or lower, requiring ultracold freezers.

    Pfizer said Monday the government gave the nod to storing its vaccine at minus 25 to minus 15 C for up to two weeks.

    The Vixell box will be offered in two sizes, with the smaller one with 57 liter capacity capable of carrying about 1,000 doses of Pfizer's vaccine and the larger with 120 liter capacity for about 5,000 doses.

    Britain's AstraZeneca Plc filed a request for Japan's health ministry to approve its novel coronavirus vaccine in February. Biotechnology firm Moderna Inc. and Japanese drugmaker Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. are planning to apply for the U.S. company's coronavirus vaccine on Friday, people familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

    Japan has agreements in place with the three groups to receive enough doses for its population of 126 million.

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