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DOT asserts regulatory hurdles cleared for COVID-19 distribution

FAA, FMCSA working with private sector to help Operation Warp Speed deliver vaccines

Regulations in place to support air/truck vaccine delivery efforts. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Regulatory measures needed for the immediate mass shipment of COVID-19 vaccines through Operation Warp Speed are now in place, according to the Trump administration.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) “has laid the groundwork for the safe transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine and is proud to support this historic endeavor,” DOT Secretary Elaine Chao announced Tuesday.

DOT’s modal agencies and Operation Warp Speed – which is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense – have been coordinating with private air cargo carriers and trucking companies to carry vaccines from manufacturing facilities to the distribution centers and inoculation points.

“The department has established the appropriate safety requirements for all potential hazards involved in shipping the vaccine, including standards for dry ice and lithium batteries used in cooling,” DOT stated.

DOT outlined its initial efforts to deal with the pandemic earlier this year through emergency regulatory relief for flight crews and aviation groups to support uninterrupted flight operations and respond to increased air cargo demand.

The Federal Aviation Administration established in October a vaccine air transport team to expedite transportation and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Key to that effort, DOT noted, has been coordinating with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – another DOT modal agency – to ensure safe transportation of hazardous materials.

Major U.S. passenger airlines are now rehearsing final plans and lining up the right equipment and personnel to support the worldwide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines at a variety of required temperatures.

“Additionally, the department has continued to support critical supply chain networks by granting a nationwide exemption to hours-of-service regulations for trucking companies and commercial drivers providing direct emergency assistance,” DOT noted. “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s long-standing emergency declaration was also recently extended to support emergency transportation of vaccines and medical supplies and equipment related to the prevention of COVID-19.”

About 40 million doses of two leading COVID-19 vaccines could be available for nationwide distribution by the end of December, with similar amounts metered out each month afterward in a carefully synchronized manner to ensure all jurisdictions have a predictable supply, Operation Warp Speed officials said at a press conference last month.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.