How Pfizer will distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccines to all 50 states in 2 days

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Sunday, December 13, 2020
Pfizer vaccines on the move: A look into the monumental shipping operation
Here's how FedEx and UPS are undertaking the mammoth challenge of delivering this first batch of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Even though U.S. health officials authorized the emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, getting the pandemic under control will take time and effort. One of the biggest steps in that process is getting millions of vaccines distributed.

Pfizer said once the Food and Drug Administration gave its coronavirus shot the greenlight, it planned to immediately prepare a portion of its 6.4 million doses for shipping.

This batch is being broken up: First, 2.9 million doses will be distributed to 64 jurisdictions in all 50 states and five U.S. territories. Twenty-one days later, another 2.9 million doses will arrive at those same locations so those who received the first shot can get their second and final dose.

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With help from FedEx and UPS, the pharmaceutical company said it believes it can deliver the entire first batch of vaccines within two days. Operation Warp speed officials said the vaccines will be delivered by Monday.

About 500,000 doses will be held on reserve at its plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in case of an emergency.

Execution and transit

Pfizer has held distribution training sessions at its Michigan plant since March, conducting mock scenarios and tabletop exercises with Operation Warp Speed.

Once the team was notified of the emergency use authorization, workers started to remove trays of vials from the more than 300 freezers at the plant.

These are being packaged into boxes and loaded into trucks, which will take them to shipping facilities and major area airports. Temperature-controlled thermal shippers are keeping the doses as cold as necessary for up to 10 days unopened.

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Each box has a tracker to ensure that each vaccine goes to the right place, at the right time and at the right temperature. Around 20 to 30 people are monitoring the transit process to make sure nothing goes wrong.

Pfizer has also started shipping a separate box of supplies that includes syringes, PPE and the diluent needed to administer the shots.

Thawing and administering

Once the COVID-19 vaccines arrive at their destinations and are ready for use, each vial takes 30 minutes to an hour to thaw.

It is then diluted and must be administered within six hours by a trained health care professional.

The vaccines can be stored in three different types of locations: in ultra-low-temperature freezers, the Pfizer thermal shippers (if the dry ice is refilled) and refrigeration units that are commonly available in hospitals.