Distribution workers use the central clear, ultrasonic band to package and transport Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses. Photo contributed by RMH Systems Inc./Felins.

A Waukee-based packaging design firm is watching its own product deliver Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses nationwide during the urgent battle against the coronavirus pandemic. 

RMH Systems Inc. partnered with Milwaukee manufacturer Felins to develop the ultrasonic packaging band for Pfizer to distribute millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It started off as kind of a random project that we’d work on any day, but as we became aware that it was a COVID vaccine [project], it became really exciting to work on this,” said packaging general manager Marc Collis.

Initially contacted through RMH’s website in April 2020, the company only knew at that time that the product design would be a method to package pharmaceutical products, Collis said.  

The firm ultimately designed the band packaging multiple containers of COVID-19 vaccine doses together to be ready for safe transportation. By August, RMH was training Pfizer staff on operating equipment to apply the band and prepare dosage packages for shipping. The bands are manufactured by Felins, and used by Pfizer to distribute U.S. doses. 

Pfizer received an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in early December to distribute the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is given to individuals in two doses and requires deep-freeze containers to be transported. The temperature requirements proved to be the most notable design challenge, Collis said, as the extreme temperature could weaken most materials in typical product design.

“The biggest challenge was obviously the temperature requirement, because it’s very, very unusual for anything in packaging to go in a freezer that’s minus zero degrees at all, and this was minus 112 degrees,” Collis said. 

In Iowa, about 191,675 initial vaccine doses by both Pfizer and Moderna had been distributed by Jan. 7; about 74,224 of those have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 vaccination tracker. The CDC reported about 21.4 million doses by both companies have been distributed nationally, but only 5.9 million initial doses have been administered to individuals. 

Collis did not say how many bands have been distributed, but RMH has provided six application machines to Pfizer and is in ongoing contact for machine maintenance, he said. 

“I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I’d love to do it for other vaccine companies. It’s a good product, and it’s frankly kind of humbling to be a part of something that’s going to make such a difference,” Collis said.