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FedEx, UPS mobilize to deliver Moderna COVID vaccine

Five times as many deliveries scheduled under different distribution strategy than used for Pfizer

FedEx Express and UPS are responsible for transportation of Moderna's COVID vaccine, just as they were with Pfizer's vaccine last week. (Photo: Pfizer Inc.)

FedEx Express and UPS are mobilizing their delivery networks to begin shipping Moderna Inc.’s (NASDQ: MRNA) COVID-19 vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration late Friday issued an emergency use authorization.

In a repeat of last week’s schedule for the first release of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine, FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) trucks are expected to begin rolling out of distribution centers on Sunday with boxes of vaccine packed in dry ice. Dosing sites will begin receiving vaccines on Monday.

Distribution has already begun.

Moderna previously moved vials from their fill-finish manufacturing sites to distribution centers operated by McKesson Corp. (NYSE: MCK), the U.S. government’s third-party logistics coordinator for the delivery of vaccines other than those produced by Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE). McKesson employees are packing boxes with containers, which each hold 100 vials, and dry ice and loading them on trucks.

FedEx and UPS semi-trailers will begin rolling out Sunday morning, Army Gen. Gus Perna, who heads the public-private logistics partnership known as Operation Warp Speed, confirmed in a press conference Saturday morning.

Subcontractors, such as UPS’s Boyle Transportation and XPO Logistics, are also expected to move vaccines from McKesson facilities to intermediate or final destinations. 

Most shipments will head to airports to be transferred to FedEx and UPS aircraft for carriage to their respective package hubs in Memphis, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky. The shipments will then be rerouted on trucks and cargo planes heading to locations across the country. After being sorted again at local terminals, package vans to deliver the vaccine to local dosing centers

Express carriers have also begun shipping ancillary kits, including needles, syringes and other supplies required to give the shots. For future shipments, the Moderna vaccine will be kitted together with the supplies and distributed as a package, Perna said. That represents a slight departure from previous announcements that the vaccine and supplies would ship together from the beginning. 

In Pfizer’s case, ancillary kits delivered by UPS are married up with the vaccine at the dosing center.

“We have absolute confidence that these three great companies will deliver vaccines to the American people in a safe and timely manner,” Perna said.

Moderna’s vaccine can be shipped and stored at standard freezer temperatures. The less severe temperature conditions and smaller units (Pfizer’s container holds 975 vials) will make it easier for small and rural areas to store and dispense the drug.

Operation Warp Speed has allocated 5.9 million Moderna doses and 2 million more Pfizer doses for delivery next week to 64 vaccine jurisdictions and five federal zones. UPS and FedEx delivered 2.9 million Pfizer doses this week.

More than 3,700 administration sites and local storage facilities will receive shipments next week. Moderna’s product is targeted for 3,285 dosing sites compared to 636 for Pfizer in last week’s initial rollout.

Moderna says it will deliver about 20 million doses to the U.S. government by the end of December. It expects to have between 100 million and 125 million doses available globally in the first quarter of 2021, with 85 to 100 million of those available in the U.S.

Pfizer is directly shipping its COVID vaccine to state-designated sites instead of outsourcing logistics to McKesson, because of the product’s unique ultra-cold temperature requirements. However, the entire process is closely coordinated with Operation Warp Speed, which directs where deliveries go and receives real-time updates on every shipment.

FedEx said it is ready to begin Pfizer vaccine shipments in Canada as soon as next week and is also preparing to begin delivering vaccines to other countries.

Going on Offense

Perna used a football analogy to remind the public that protection from the vaccine will still take a long time to be fully realized.

The Moderna vaccine “allows us to be on the offense. We are a long way from being finished. Each shipment of vaccine is another few yards gained, but any good player or coach knows that you still need defense, along with offense to win the game,” he said. “I join our health professionals in urging Americans to stay diligent in their defense, wear a mask, wash your hands and stay socially distant.

“While we move the ball down the field with vaccines, we will score. We will get to the end zone. It just will take some time to do so.

“Thank you to all the men and women of Pfizer, Moderna, McKesson, FedEx and UPS who are working day and night to make this happen. I’m incredibly proud to be an American,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration determined that pilots and air traffic controllers may begin receiving the Moderna vaccine without violating their medical certifications. The agency gave similar approval last week for the Pfizer vaccine

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 and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]