McKesson Corp., the giant health care distributor selected by the U.S. government to manage logistics for the COVID-19 vaccine immunization campaign, on Sunday began pushing out millions of doses of Moderna Inc.’s (NASDQ: MRNA) product in the back of FedEx and UPS trucks.
On Monday, the express carriers will begin making deliveries to nearly 3,300 local dosing sites, and priority health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities will get vaccinated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration late Friday approved the Moderna vaccine for emergency public use to quell a pandemic that has claimed more than 305,000 lives in the U.S. so far this year. The decision came a week after a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and German partner BioNTech got the green light. Operation Warp Speed, the joint government-industry task force coordinating the supply chain response, says it will deliver 5.9 million Moderna doses and 2 million Pfizer doses this week.
The FDA’s authorization set in motion a carefully choreographed logistics plan managed by McKesson (NYSE: MCK). On Saturday, employees at McKesson’s Olive Branch, Mississippi, distribution center and other locations began packing 100 vials in insulated coolers with specialized cold packs and a temperature monitor, while FedEx Express and UPS trucks assembled at the loading docks.
Distribution actually has been underway for weeks, with McKesson moving Moderna vaccine to its distribution centers in anticipation of government approval and packing kits of ancillary supplies to go with them. Operation Warp Speed’s chief operating officer, Army Gen. Gus Perna, on Saturday said the initial wave of Moderna vaccines and the kits would be delivered separately, but that for all future deliveries the vaccines and kits would be packaged together.
The kits include a reminder card for recipients to return for a second shot because the Moderna vaccine requires two doses four weeks apart.
McKesson is one of the largest global medical supply wholesalers, with years of experience handling seasonal flu vaccines and the H1N1 vaccine during the pandemic a decade ago.
The company has large-scale, pharmaceutical-grade freezers on its premises to maintain proper temperatures. Moderna’s vaccine must be stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius, a more forgiving temperature than the ultracold requirements for Pfizer’s vaccine.
McKesson said its freezers are equipped with sophisticated controls, monitoring systems and alarms to ensure the vaccines remain within the appropriate temperature range.
After thawing, to facilitate storage at points of administration, Moderna’s vaccine will remain stable at standard refrigerated conditions of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to 30 days. The stability at refrigerated conditions allows for storage at most pharmacies, hospitals or physicians’ offices.