Tractor trailers loaded with suitcase-sized containers of COVID-19 vaccine will leave Pfizer Inc’s manufacturing facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday morning – launching the largest and most complex vaccine distribution project in the United States, where the virus is raging.
U.S. regulators late on Friday authorized the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech for use, and U.S. marshals will accompany the tightly secured shipments from factory to final destination.
“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,” Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare, said on Saturday.
Workers will load the vaccine – which must be kept at sub-Arctic temperatures – onto the aircraft that will shuttle them to United Parcel Service or FedEx air cargo hubs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Memphis, Tennessee, respectively.
Familiar UPS and FedEx package delivery drivers, who may also be carrying holiday gifts and other parcels, will deliver many of the “suitcases” into the hands of healthcare providers on Monday.
Pfizer’s inoculations have the most restrictive requirements for shipping and storage temperature, minus 70 degrees Celsius .
UPS and FedEx are giving the vaccine top priority, reserving space on planes and trucks at a time when pandemic- and holiday- related e-commerce are creating more demand for deliveries than carriers can handle.
They are providing temperature and location tracking to backup devices embedded in the Pfizer boxes, and tracking each shipment throughout its journey.