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McKesson distribution centers ship first Moderna COVID-19 vaccines

Health care distributor teams with FedEx and UPS on transport and cold storage

Boxes of insulated Moderna vaccine move down a conveyor belt at McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi. (Photo: McKesson Corp.)

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, FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) are delivering vaccines under the government’s direction, which is dispatching loads to sites designated by states and other vaccine jurisdictions.

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.

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


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One Comment

  1. Stephen Webster

    We Need to get this right so as many key personal can keep working and save the most lives within reason. Health care workers must get the vaccine first who work in nursing homes then hospitals. I am very happy to see competition working together on the transportation of the Vaccines.

Comments are closed.

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]