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Historic US Covid vaccine campaign launches with convoy of trucks

Reuters Deemberc 13 | Updated on December 13, 2020

 

Workers at a Pfizer Inc factory in Michigan dispatched the first shipments of its Covid-19 vaccine shortly after 6:30 a.m. on Sunday - launching the largest and most complex vaccine distribution project ever in the US.

A network television video feed from the facility in Kalamazoo showed masked workers removing pizza-boxed sized cartons containing vaccine vials from a freezer, and placing them in large, blue coolers, before these were boxed and labelled.

Workers clapped and whistled as the first boxes were moved toward waiting trucks.

US regulators late on Friday authorised the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech for use, and US marshals will accompany the tightly secured shipments from factory to final destination.

“We have spent months strategising with Operation Warp Speed officials and our healthcare customers on efficient vaccine logistics, and the time has arrived to put the plan into action,” Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare, said on Saturday.

Pfizer's dry-ice cooled packages can hold as many as 4,875 doses, and the first leg of their journey will be from Kalamazoo to planes positioned nearby. Workers will load the vaccine - which must be kept at sub-Arctic temperatures - onto the aircraft that will shuttle them to United Parcel Service or FedEx air cargo hubs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee, respectively.

From there, they will be trucked or flown to facilities close to the 145 US sites earmarked to receive the first doses.

Familiar UPS and FedEx package delivery drivers, who may also be carrying holiday gifts and other parcels, will deliver many of the “suitcases” into the hands of healthcare providers on Monday. The shipments are the first of three expected this week.

 

Healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care homes are first in line to receive the inoculations.

Pfizer's inoculations have the most restrictive requirements for shipping and storage temperature, minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94°F).

UPS and FedEx are giving the vaccine top priority, reserving space on planes and trucks at a time when pandemic- and holiday- related e-commerce are creating more demand for deliveries than carriers can handle.

 

Both companies have expertise handling fragile medical products and are leaving little room for error. They are providing temperature and location tracking to backup devices embedded in the Pfizer boxes, and tracking each shipment throughout its journey.

Published on December 13, 2020

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