UPS and FedEx say plans to ship the vaccine are underway.
UPS and FedEx, usually rivals, are working side by side to deliver the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the first vaccine to receive US government approval.
The two shipping companies said they had put into action plans they had been working on for months after the Food and Drug Administration granted clearance for the vaccination emergency late Friday.
The first vaccines are shipped as the virus rages across America. Officials reported more than 236,000 new cases on Friday, another one-day case report. More than 3,000 deaths were reported for the first time on Wednesday, and the country’s total is approaching 300,000.
At a press conference on Saturday, General Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told the federal attempt to bring a vaccine to market that boxes were being packed at Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Michigan facility and shipping to UPS and FedEx distribution centers where they are distributed in 636 locations across the country. Pfizer said shipping would begin early Sunday morning.
Mr Perna said 145 sites would receive the vaccine on Monday, 425 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday.
“Make no mistake, the distribution has started,” he said. UPS expects to ship the vaccine on Sunday morning when employees stationed at Pfizer’s Michigan facility attach special Bluetooth and wireless tracking tags to each shipment. A plane waiting nearby will deliver the vaccine to the company’s Worldport Air Freight Center in Louisville, Kentucky, a sprawling sorting facility spanning 5.2 million square feet. Future shipments of the vaccine will also be trucked to the Louisville hub, which is up to a six-hour drive from Michigan.
“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” said Wes Wheeler, president of the company’s health department, in an interview on Saturday. “We have been planning daily calls for months that go down to the smallest detail.”
Wheeler said he plans to oversee initial vaccine shipments from a newly established 24/7 command center in Louisville, which will be manned by teams of five to ten people at any given time to monitor each vaccine package as it progresses UPS moves the network.
Once the vaccine shipments arrive at the Louisville hub, they are sorted along with other packages and distributed to hospitals and other medical facilities. Every truck driver or airplane pilot will know if they are carrying a vaccine package, Wheeler said. Both UPS and FedEx have announced that the cans will arrive at their destinations the day after they leave Pfizer facilities.
Even before the vaccine was approved, UPS had already started shipping kits containing the medical supplies required for administration, such as alcohol wipes and syringes, Wheeler told a Senate subcommittee this week. UPS and FedEx will split distribution of the vaccine across the country. After these shipments arrive, UPS will send all Pfizer dispensing points another shipment of 40 pounds of extra dry ice to keep the vaccines at a cold temperature, he said.
“You have two strong rivals here in FedEx and UPS who are literally teaming up to make this happen,” Richard Smith, a FedEx executive, told the Senate Subcommittee on Transport and Security on Thursday.
Both companies said the shipments would be closely tracked and monitored and given priority over other packages. To ship the vaccine, Pfizer has developed special containers filled with enough dry ice to keep at least 975 cans cool for up to 10 days. Each comes with a tracking device.
Like UPS, FedEx said it would also attach its own tracking tags to vaccine shipments. Every UPS truck that carries the cans will have a device that tracks its location, temperature, exposure and movement, Mr Wheeler told senators. The company’s trucks will also have escorts, he said Thursday. It is not clear if he was referring to the local police or other government officials or possibly private guards, and he declined to elaborate on this and other details in the interview, citing security concerns. But the trucks leaving Pfizer’s factory are tracked “minute by minute,” he said.