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Boyle Transportation helps UPS air network move COVID vaccine

Tracking cold chain certainty of early shipments requires specialty shipper

Boyle Transportation is helping UPS with initial movement of Pfizer vaccines for COVID-19. (Photo: Boyle Transportation)

Heavy-duty Freightliner Cascadias operated by Billerica, Massachusetts-based Boyle Transportation rumbled from a Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) plant in Michigan on Sunday, hauling the first doses of a vaccine critical to ending the coronavirus pandemic.

Boyle is an experienced transporter of vaccines. It plays a niche role in United Parcel Service‘s (NYSE: UPS) Air network, co-President Marc Boyle told FreightWaves on Sunday.

“We’re partnering with UPS for some first-leg shipments from the Pfizer plant to different locations to get it into the UPS network. We had a few trucks there because there were some other shipments that went off after that initial shipment,” he said.

The Boyle trucks are taking vaccines to an airport about 90 miles from Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Portage near Kalamazoo, Michigan. Sensitive to security, Boyle declined to identify the location “because I am sure they are going to use it on an ongoing basis back and forth.” 

Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, about 80 miles from Kalamazoo, confirmed a flight with vaccine left the airport on a UPS aircraft Sunday morning bound for the company’s Worldport hub.

Secrecy and security

The secrecy and security of the trucks and their high-value content are paramount. U.S, Marshals accompany the semi-trailers leaving Pfizer. Team-driven routes vary to throw off potential hijackers. Telematic redundancies are built into Boyle trucks. Like an armored truck, one person is always within a prescribed distance of the truck. 

“We’re certainly not unfamiliar with high-profile shipments. We are normally incredibly tight-lipped about the work that we do for partners,” Boyle said. “We’re entrusted with many critical shipments. So we try to plug in and provide that capability. In this case, it is validating temperature-controlled shipping.”

Boyle`s trucks are not typical refrigerated units. For many years, they have carried vaccines for seasonal flu and Shingles. Those trailers require temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Centigrade.  

“This is much, much different,” Boyle said. “There is no temperature-controlled trailer that will be at minus-70C, which is what the Pfizer vaccine is kept at. There’s a certain set point for the trailer that we’re tracking and making sure there’s a digital chain of custody.” 

Pfizer is shipping the vaccines in specially designed thermal coolers packed with about 50 pounds of dry ice.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.