As It Happens

Ontario ice cream company Chapman's to help with COVID-19 vaccine storage

Ashley Chapman has always known that if a pandemic hit, his family's ice cream company would be part of the response.

'My parents are seniors. I live in this community. I live in this area,' says company VP

Chapman's vice-president Ashley Chapman, right, and his mother Penny. (Submitted by Ashley Chapman)


Ashley Chapman has always known that if a pandemic hit, his family's ice cream company would be part of the response.

Now the Markdale, Ont., company has managed to secure two sub-zero freezers needed to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to be distributed in the province's Grey County area.

"We moved pretty quickly a few weeks ago, as soon as we saw that the Pfizer vaccine was going to need temperatures of colder than - 70 C, and we started looking around for a unit that could do what we had wanted," Chapman, the vice-president of Chapman's Ice Cream, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"My parents are seniors. I live in this community. I live in this area. And anything I can do to protect the people that I love around me, I'm just going to do it."

Ice cream contacts

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Canada last week, and the rollout is kicking off in several provinces, with health-care workers and long-term care residents and staff first in line.

The vaccine must be transported on dry ice and stored in temperatures below - 70 C — colder than the - 30 C to 35 C Chapman's uses to store its ice cream.

But the company has been around a long time, and they have contacts in the freezer business.

"We truly lucked out. We spoke to this lovely gentleman ... and I told him where we were, and he went, 'Oh, Markdale! My aunt and uncle live in Markdale!'" Chapman said. 

An employee makes dry ice pellets at Capitol Carbonic in Baltimore, Md., to be used for storing and transporting the Pfizer vaccine. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Ian Arra, chief medical officer of health for the Grey Bruce Health Unit, confirmed to the Toronto Star that it was collaborating with Chapman's for vaccine storage, as well as working with the province to secure more cold storage. 

"Really, my heart goes out to our health professionals — Dr. Arra, his entire team, nurses, EMTs, all of them," Chapman said.

"The pressures that they have been under since the beginning of this, and anything that we can do to just help them see the light at the end of the tunnel and then just, you know, maintain for a few more months, is more than worth than any price."

But this wasn't all Chapman's doing. He says his parents, who opened Chapman's 47 years ago, signed on to be part of Canada's pandemic response plan in the 1980s, agreeing to offer their facilities up for storage if needed for a nationwide vaccine distribution program. 

"When they were first approached, it was inconceivable to them to say no," Chapman said, adding that his dad is a polio survivor. "This is a generation that sees the value in vaccinations."

Ashley Chapman, front left, poses with his parents and other Chapman's employees. (Submitted by Ashley Chapman)

Chapman heard Thursday morning that the freezers are about to clear customs, and expects them to arrive this week or next. He's not sure where they will go, but says he'll follow marching orders from Dr. Arra. 

It's not clear yet when vaccines will be available in Grey County. 

"The sooner the better," Chapman said. "We're here. We're ready."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. 


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