As America’s mass vaccination effort continues, Duluth native helps develop COVID-19 vaccine vials

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The COVID-19 vaccine has been a precious tool in our fight against the pandemic. As a result, protecting it from harm’s way as it is shipped across the country is critical.

One way this is done is through the vials the vaccine is stored in. And one of Duluth’s very own is helping make these vials.

“This is a big, transformational technology—the vaccines that is,” said Joe Mattson, who works as a chemical process engineer at Corning. “But the vaccines without a vehicle don’t really do us any good. So it’s cool to be a part of the company that provides the carrier for that.”

Mattson began working for Corning, a New York-based glass manufacturer, in 2020 after moving from the Northland to the East Coast to earn his PhD. A graduate of both Central High School and the University of Minnesota Duluth, he is proud to represent his hometown while fighting the pandemic on a larger scale.

“If you take the time to think about it, it’s kind of special,” Mattson said.

Like all transformational technology, Mattson said the company’s vaccine vials were years in the making. In fact, Corning has been making glass for nearly two centuries — perhaps most notably helping Thomas Edison bring light to the world.

“When Edison invented the light bulb, he was like, ‘I need a glass thing to put this in,’” Mattson said. “He went to Corning and he was like, ‘Hey, I need to make these super fast,’ and they were like, ‘All right, we will take it upon ourselves to try and do that,’ and then they did."

Fast forward to the present, and Mattson said Corning is making glass for smartphones, cars and COVID-19 vaccine vials.

“Corning again is sort of playing the same role of making a glass vessel to carry the stuff and it has global consequences,” Mattson said.

According to Mattson, the glass Corning uses to make COVID-19 vaccine vials is stronger than glass used to make other vaccine vials.

“They are treated in such a way that they are less susceptible to cracking, so that makes them a little bit more robust,” Mattson said.

Because they are more robust, Mattson said they are able to move faster on filling lines.

“We give them a coating that allows them to just sort of screen through the pharmaceutical filling lines without necessarily having losses or slowdowns or excessive banging together,” Mattson said.

That being said, the faster the vials can be filled, the faster Mattson said they can get to people.

“The faster you can fill them, the faster you can ideally, get them out to people,” Mattson said.

And, the faster they get to people, the sooner the pandemic can come to a close.