The Food and Drug Administration late Friday OK’d the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use and initial shipments of nearly 3 million doses were loaded on trucks this weekend, set for distribution nationwide as soon as Monday.
“Make no mistake — distribution has begun,” said Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer General Gus Perna, adding that boxes were being packed and loaded with vaccines Saturday, with emphasis on quality control.
UPS (CCJ Top 250, No. 1) plans to move the vaccine within the first days to states designated by Pfizer, Inc., based on orders received by Operation Warp Speed and CDC officials. Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines will originate from storage sites in Michigan and Wisconsin and will be transported to UPS Worldport facilities in Louisville, where they will be expedited Next Day Air to select destinations, including hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities, to inoculate healthcare workers.
“We expect 145 sites across all the states to receive the vaccine on Monday,” Perna said, “another 425 sites on Tuesday and the final 66 sites on Wednesday, which will complete the initial delivery of the Pfizer orders for the vaccine.”
Pfizer’s deal with the U.S. calls for the drug-maker to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine by March. Another vaccine, Moderna’s mRNA-1273, could be approved in the coming days.
The vaccine – which is administered in two doses three weeks apart – could potentially soak up a lot of available truckload capacity by paying higher prices, said Karen Tyndall, director of customer solutions at logistics services provider and 3PL GlobalTranz. She added vaccine distribution has the potential to impact produce season and available capacity similar to a natural disaster.
At a time when grocery sales and shipping is busier than ever due to more lockdowns, Arrive Logistics Chief Capacity Officer Justin Frees said “it’s going to take some serious planning to keep the supply chain moving.”
UPS Healthcare President Wes Wheeler said the world’s largest package carrier has spent months strategizing with Operation Warp Speed officials and its healthcare customers on efficient vaccine logistics, “and the time has arrived to put the plan into action. This is the moment of truth we’ve been waiting for at UPS.”
Calling it “among the most important work in the history of our company,” FedEx (No. 2) President and CEO Raj Subramaniam said vaccine distribution will be balanced among major cargo carriers, adding FedEx is working closely with healthcare customers to prepare for additional vaccine shipments and transportation of critical vaccine-related supplies. FedEx Express will begin transport of the vaccine using its FedEx Priority Overnight service.
The vaccines have very specific – and cold – transportation and storage requirements. FedEx will affix SenseAware ID, a Bluetooth low-energy sensor device, to vaccine shipments, to ensure these temperature-sensitive deliveries move swiftly and safely through the FedEx Express U.S. network. SenseAware monitoring technology tracks the location of vaccine shipments in near real-time and is complemented by the FedEx Surround platform, which uses artificial intelligence and predictive tools to proactively monitor conditions surrounding the packages, allowing customer support agents to intervene if weather or traffic delays threaten to impede delivery times.