DETROIT — In an attempt to keep the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic from again disrupting its operations, Ford Motor Co. has ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers to store vaccines globally when they become available, the company confirmed Tuesday.
“It’s important to Ford because the health and safety of our employees is our top priority,” Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and labor communications manager, told the Free Press. “What we’ve done is order these ultra-cold freezers so we can make the vaccine available to them on a voluntary basis when the vaccine is available.”
At this point, the company is looking to offer the vaccine to employees only. In the matters of COVID-19 protocol overall, Ford has been proactive about offering guidance and support to families of employees.
When asked whether Ford might offer incentives to office or factory workers to take the vaccine, Felker said, “There are no incentives that I’m aware of. All plans are being determined as we speak. It’s a very fluid situation.”
As product launches move forward, Ford has billions of dollars at stake with the upcoming 2021 F-150, Bronco and all-electric Mustang Mach-E and factory operations in North America.
“We’ve got a lot of safety protocols we have in place right now that are requirements in our plants and facilities,” Felker said. “This would be another layer on top of what we’re already doing to help keep our employees safe. We do take COVID very seriously,”
She didn’t know how many of the 12 freezer units would end up in the U.S., since Ford has operations around the world — including China and Europe, which is seeing another surge.
The vaccine developed by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech, which promises a 95% immunity based on clinical studies, will need to be stored in temperatures as cold as minus 80 degrees Celsius, according to preliminary reports.
“Typical freezers don’t get that cold, making distribution of this vaccine a logistical nightmare,” said STATnews.com, the health news website.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised state health departments against purchasing ultra-cold freezers — which cost $10,000 to $15,000 each — saying other vaccines with less demanding storage requirements will be available soon,” STAT reported Nov. 11. “Hospitals with money to spare are flouting this guidance. Four major health care systems, from North Carolina to Ohio, North Dakota, and California, told STAT they had bought additional ultra-cold freezers, while Jefferson Health in Philadelphia said it has leased five units.”
Ford declined to discuss the price of the freezers or the source of the purchase.
Protect the assembly line
Carla Bailo, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research, praised Ford for its efforts to keep healthy its workforce of approximately 187,000 employees.
“This is not the first time that the companies have done health checks or even offered health facilities on site. It used to be standard,” she said. “If you look at how quickly the vaccines are scheduled to actually roll out, to have a plan to administer them yourself makes a lot of sense — to keep the assembly line and development processes rolling along.”
Bailo could see companies encouraging vaccines but not legally mandating them or offering financial incentives to take the shots. At this time, she said, smaller manufacturers are getting hit with illness and it’s cause for concern.
“We’re starting to see small manufacturers suffer from the workforce perspective,” she said. “People are leaving and they can’t get people to apply and people are absent because of COVID. It’s starting to work its way through the supply chain.”
This, Bailo said, is a potential crisis. “The faster we can get moving to keep the whole supply chain healthy, the better off we’ll be.”
The UAW couldn’t be reached for immediate comment.