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Bozrah-based company develops system to distribute COVID-19 vaccine

Bozrah-based manufacturer Gilman Brothers has designed and tested a system to distribute an eventual COVID-19 vaccine, including the one under development by Pfizer that needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius — colder than winter in Antarctica.

The company worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the lightweight insulated box, which features multiple compartments, one where a smaller enclosed box holding vaccine doses would be stored. The rest of the compartments are to be filled with dry ice.

The system can maintain a temperature of minus 75 degrees Celsius for over 72 hours without the dry ice having to be replenished, the company said, and has been tested both internally and by the Army Corps.

This is not the first time the pandemic has led the company, which usually manufactures foam board materials for signage and displays, to think outside the box.

Early in the pandemic, Gilman Brothers began manufacturing beds and partitions to be used at field hospitals being set up in Connecticut and other states in case hospitals reached capacity in treating coronavirus patients. During the summer, the company began making shields to be used on school desks.

“Hopefully we will play a role in the final victory over this viral enemy that we’ve all been suffering from,” President Evan Gilman said Thursday at a virtual news conference during which employees demonstrated how the prototype works.

The current design is made to hold 500 doses of the vaccine. Gilman said the company is working on a second design that could hold 1,000 doses. The company currently can produce about 4,000 of these boxes a week, he said, but could be scaled up to distribute millions of doses of vaccine a week.

"That would put Gilman on the map worldwide," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., appearing at the virtual conference. "Your product will be known across the globe if it's really scalable to that extent. That's a really major development."

Pfizer and Moderna, two companies developing the vaccines, have estimated they will have 45 million doses, or enough to vaccinate 22.5 million Americans, by the start of next year.

Connecticut manufacturers, including Gilman Brothers, which has been operating for more than a century, stepped up during World War II to produce supplies for the global war, and “now we’re fighting a global pandemic and we’re doing it with the innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit that Connecticut has always shown,” said Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who participated in the virtual news conference.

Asked by Bysiewicz whether the company is planning to patent its design, Gilman said he has no plans to do that.

“To be honest with you, it just seemed wrong for us to go and monopolize something or put any sort of barriers in place,” he said. “If other companies want to copy the design, this is life or death. This isn’t profit. This isn’t normal business.”

j.bergman@theday.com

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