Updated Dec. 12, 2020 6:05 P.M. ET
FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) trucks are expected to roll out of Pfizer’s (NYSE: PFE) pharmaceutical facilities Sunday, carrying the first 2.9 million-dose batch of COVID-19 vaccines to designated drop facilities in each state and to airports for longer trips.
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday night gave the go-ahead for the drug’s emergency public use.
The first vaccines could be injected in peoples’ arms by Monday. Frontline medical workers and staff and residents in long-term care facilities are expected to get priority treatment.
Under a division of responsibility coordinated through Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership managing the logistics for the vaccine distribution, FedEx will deliver vaccine doses to the western half of the U.S. UPS will cover the eastern half. Earlier this week, UPS began nationwide delivery of kits with ancillary supplies for administering the does, such as alcohol swabs and syringes.
The vaccine developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech will originate from the company’s main plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a freezer farm in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. NBC News is also reporting that United Airlines (NASDQ: UAL) has made additional flights to Chicago from Pfizer’s plant in Belgium to supplement the supply. United made an initial delivery for Pfizer two weeks ago.
The vaccines will be transported to FedEx and UPS hubs in Memphis, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky, respectively, where they will be expedited by air to hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities designated by states.
FedEx Express will transport vaccines using its Priority Overnight network with packages tagged with sensors and GPS devices for real-time monitoring.
Some shipments will have security escorts provided by the U.S. Marshals service.
“This is among the most important work in the history of our company, and we’re honored to be a part of the effort to help end this pandemic,” said Raj Subramaniam, president and chief operating officer, FedEx Corp., in a statement.
“This is the moment of truth we’ve been waiting for at UPS,” Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare, said. “We have spent months strategizing with Operation Warp Speed officials and our healthcare customers on efficient vaccine logistics, and the time has arrived to put the plan into action.”
The complex logistical effort comes amid a record peak shipping season leading up to the holidays in the U.S. Officials at both companies insist they can handle the surge after months of planning. Vaccine delivery will get the highest priority. FedEx Express will handle the time-definite, critical vaccines like vaccines and FedEx Ground will handle the bulk of online retail orders.
“This is what we were built for. We plan for things like this regularly, maybe not on this scale, with all the ins and outs, but we are well versed in this type of planning,” said Richard Smith, FedEx Express regional vice president for the Americas, in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday.
In the first week, Pfizer expects to ship about 2.9 million doses.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine poses logistical challenges because it must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Specially designed thermal boxes will allow about 50 pounds of dry ice to surround the doses, which can be kept for 30 days if the dry ice is refilled every five days. The carriers will primarily use dry vans instead of refrigerated trucks, relying on the dry ice to protect the precious loads from temperature incursions.
“The FDA has determined that Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has met the statutory criteria for issuance of an Emergency Use Authorization. The totality of the available data provides clear evidence that Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement.
“The data also support that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks, supporting the vaccine’s use in millions of people 16 years of age and older, including healthy individuals. In making this determination, the FDA can assure the public and medical community that it has conducted a thorough evaluation of the available safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality information.”
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. manufacturing facilities or distribution centers each month next year. It is 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.