Watch Now

Trucks poised to roll with Pfizer vaccine shipments

ABI Research estimates more than 800 truckloads per month will be needed to move two COVID vaccines

Hundreds of trucks and aircraft will be involved in moving COVID vaccines. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) trucks could roll out of Pfizer’s (NYSE: PFE) Kalamazoo, Michigan, pharmaceutical plant by this weekend, carrying the first 3.2 million-dose batch of COVID-19 vaccines to hospitals and other health care facilities, and to airports for longer trips.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Food and Drug Administration, under pressure from the White House, will issue an emergency use authorization Friday night, kicking off the biggest logistics effort in modern history.

ABI Research, a technology market advisory firm in Oyster, Bay, New York, projects that at least 857 temperature-controlled trucks will load at Pfizer and Moderna Inc. (NASDQ: MRNA manufacturing facilities or distribution centers each month next year, part of a global immunization effort that will result in the logistics sector transporting an average of 9 million temperature-controlled doses per day — or 271 million each month.

On Thursday, an independent panel of experts voted for the Food and Drug Administration to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after determining it was safe and extremely effective. The United Kingdom and Canada have already given Pfizer the green light, with vaccinations already underway this week in the U.K. The advisory panel will review Moderna’s vaccine late next week.

ABI’s findings are subject to several variables, including supply chain and production bottlenecks that slow distribution. And if new vaccines are approved by regulators, the shipment estimates will increase significantly.

Pfizer recently said it will produce 50 million vaccine doses this year, half of its original estimate after it took longer than expected to scale up its raw material supply chain and extended clinical trials diverted early production capacity. The company says that modifications to its production lines in the U.S. and Europe are now complete and finished doses are being made, putting it on track to make about 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

AstraZeneca was once considered the frontrunner in the vaccine arms race but ran into trouble with missteps that raised safety concerns and slowed its path to approval. 

And Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) on Friday announced their vaccine produced a low immune response in older adults, pushing back phase two clinical trials until the second quarter of 2021 and the potential start of full-scale production until later in the year. France-based Sanofi and U.K.-based GSK have a $2.1 billion contract with the U.S. government for 100 million doses. 

Also, quality control issues sometimes crop up during mass production of drugs and could create delays until they are corrected. 

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines need cold-chain infrastructure that is not widely available to maintain their integrity during transport and storage, and people must take two doses over three or four weeks. Shippers will use great amounts of dry ice in packages and containers to meet the temperature-control requirements. 

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine poses the greatest logistical challenge because it must be kept  at ultracold temperatures (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit). The Moderna product also needs subfreezing storage (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit) to stay fresh.

“The scale of technology, strategy, and operations excellence needed will require transparency, flexibility, and scale never seen, and will take herculean efforts beyond the actual vaccine development and approval,” said Susan Beardslee, ABI’s principal analyst for freight transportation and logistics, in a whitepaper about big technology trends for 2021.

Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch. / Contact: [email protected]


UPS begins nationwide shipping of vaccine kits

Rehearsal exposes gaps in COVID vaccine delivery

US fine-tunes plans for COVID vaccine distribution

Solving the dry ice challenge for COVID vaccine

DoD planning ‘every statistical detail’ of COVID vaccine distribution

COVID vaccine distribution to start as sprint, turn into marathon

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]