UPS and FedEx are working side by side to ship the coronavirus vaccine

December 14 2020

UPS and FedEx, normally rivals, are working side by side to ship the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the first of the vaccines to win U.S. government approval. Their trucks departed the manufacturing facility in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday morning loaded with COVID-19 vaccines packed in dry ice to maintain them at ultra-cold temperatures.

The two shipping giants have decided to divide and conquer:

“FedEx and UPS have split the country into two,” said Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Global Healthcare. “We know exactly what states we have, and they know what states they have.” 

The two companies collectively hired 170,000 additional employees to keep pace with demand. They said the vaccines would get the highest priority of all of their deliveries.

Mr. Perna specified that 145 sites would receive the vaccine Today (Monday), 425 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday:

“As I speak today, right now, vaccines are being packaged with a lot of emphasis on quality assurance. To that end, tomorrow morning, vaccines will start rolling from manufacturing to distribution hubs,” said Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, at a briefing by the Health and Human Services Department Saturday. “And then by Monday, vaccines will be received.”

Operation Warp Speed has allotted 6.4 million doses of Pfizer vaccine for initial distribution, based on availability. The express carriers will deliver 2.9 million doses this week and another 2.9 million doses in a couple of weeks. The priority is health care workers and nursing home residents as infections, hospitalizations and deaths soar in the U.S. With numbers likely to get worse over the holidays, the vaccine is offering a bright spot in the fight against the pandemic that killed nearly 300,000 Americans.OWS is holding back 500,000 doses as a backup for emergency contingencies.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses taken 17 to 21 days apart for maximum effectiveness. Frontline medical workers and nursing home staff and residents are expected to get the first treatments.

Speed of delivery is critical. The moment a box of doses is shipped, the countdown clock begins. Vaccines can last for up to thirty days in Pfizer’s boxes, so long as the thermal shipper is not opened more than twice in a day, for no longer than a minute each time. The dry ice also needs to be replenished every five days.

Keeping the Coronavirus Vaccine safe

The Pfizer boxes are packed with about 50 pounds of dry ice to keep the vaccine stable at minus 70 degrees Celsius. UPS is not using refrigerated trucks, relying on the dry ice to maintain the required temperature. News footage from the Pfizer plant Sunday morning showed a refrigerated FedEx truck waiting to be loaded. Both UPS and FedEx will use high-tech tracking devices to monitor packages carrying the vaccine, both to ensure speed of delivery and the safety of the product itself, throughout transport. Each UPS truck carrying the doses will have a device that tracks its location, temperature, light exposure and motion, Mr. Wheeler told the senators. The company’s trucks will have escorts, too, he said on Thursday. It is not clear whether he meant the local police or other government officials