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FedEx transports COVID vaccine to US military bases overseas

Cold storage, trained personnel are in place to handle temperature-controlled shipments, Defense Logistics Agency says

Jasmin Fiorini, assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego, vaccinates a volunteering service member, Dec. 15, 2020. (Photo: DOD/Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Erwin Jacob V. Miciano)

The U.S. Department of Defense is ready to ship doses of Moderna Inc.’s (NASDQ: MRNA) COVID-19 vaccine to personnel outside the U.S. with the help of FedEx Express.

The bulk of the vaccine doses that the Defense Logistics Agency receives during the initial phase of distribution will be transported by FedEx (NYSE: FDX) directly to overseas military bases, spokesman Patrick Mackin said. The others will be cross-docked at overseas military medical distribution hubs run by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency. From there, they will be redistributed regionally by various means, he added. 

In addition to providing vaccine transport to the military, FedEx is one of two primary transportation providers for nationwide distribution of the Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and, starting Sunday, Moderna vaccines. The company also said it expects to begin Pfizer vaccine deliveries in Canada this week.

The Food and Drug Administration late Friday cleared Moderna’s vaccine for public use after determining it was safe and effective.

The Defense Logistics Agency has spent months coordinating with Operation Warp Speed and Defense Health Agency officials to refine its plan for delivering the vaccine as it becomes available from manufacturers. The agency has extensive experience managing temperature-sensitive medical material in accordance with manufacturers’ guidelines, and has delivered the annual flu vaccine for 20 years.

The agency said Thursday it has increased refrigerated storage space and can maintain almost 19 million doses of traditional-style vaccines in the 2-to-8-degree Celsius temperature range and 4.6 million of the minus 20-degree Celsius vaccine (Moderna) ahead of shipping products to customers. The agency hasn’t been asked to distribute the minus 70-degree Celsius vaccine (Pfizer), but has developed initial plans to provide support if necessary, Army Col. Anthony Bostick, who leads DLA’s Operation Warp Speed operational planning team, said in a DoD blog post.

DLA Distribution manages six U.S.-based and four overseas centers capable of handling cold-chain items and began training additional employees in cold-chain management processes in June.

All temperature-controlled shipments have monitoring devices so logistics personnel can check the vaccine quality in case of a temperature deviation during transport or after storage, such as from a refrigerator malfunction, according to the agency.

Shipments from U.S.-based centers typically remain cold for up to five days, Garrettson added. At cross-docks or other distribution centers, material handlers will refresh packages with dry ice to maintain cold temperatures. The agency is also coordinating with customers to ensure they’re available to receive the vaccine upon arrival.

In related news, the Defense Department said Navy Medical Center San Diego received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer. Health worker and emergency responders will be first to get vaccinated.

Click here for more FreightWaves and American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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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]