Report: Coronavirus vaccines are being shipped right now

Written by: Jayson Derrick
December 1, 2020
  • Pfizer reportedly started to ship its COVID-19 vaccine from Brussels to Chicago.
  • Flights require 15,000 pounds of dry ice which is much larger than currently permitted.
  • The vaccination process could start before the end of 2020.

How close is the world to begin the vaccinating process against the novel coronavirus? According to The Wall Street Journal’s report last week, vaccines have left warehouses and are making their way around the world.

From Brussels to Chicago

United Airlines Holdings Inc (NASDAQ: UAL) transported Pfizer Inc.’s (NYSE: PFE) vaccine last week from Brussels to Chicago even though the vaccine has yet to receive the official green light from U.S. regulatory bodies.

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Oddly enough, a Pfizer spokeswoman said it won’t start shipping the vaccine until the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizes the vaccine for emergency use. A decision is likely to come when the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee gather on Dec. 10.

But the Federal Aviation Administration said it supports what it describes as the “first mass air shipment of a vaccine.” 

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Pfizer’s logistical challenges

Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept at a storage level of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. This creates a series of challenges from both a logistical and regulatory point of view.

On the logistical side of the equation, Pfizer had to create new cold storage sites across its global final-assembly centers in Michigan and Belgium. The company also had to expand storage capacity at distribution sites in Wisconsin, and Germany.

But once these cold storage jobs are completed, Exxon was just getting started.

United’s flight had to carry 15,000 pounds of dry ice to keep the vaccine viable when it is being transported across the Atlantic ocean. This amount happens to be five times more than what is normally permitted for regular flights.

Airliners are asking special permission for exemptions even though planes lack the necessary equipment to monitor and mitigate potential carbon dioxide leaks, according to WSJ. And once the vaccine is ready to be transported for the “last mile,” Exxon needs hundreds of trucks equipped with sufficient cold storage capacity.

Potential timeline

The Pfizer vaccine could be approved for use in less than two weeks. On Dec. 10 a panel of outside advisers will help the FDA review Pfizer’s data and recommend to the agency if it is fit for public use or not.

The FDA could make that determination right after a vote and final approval could come within one day. This could easily set the stage for the first vaccinations to come before the start of 2021.

Pfizer isn’t acting alone and other vaccine makers are making similar plans to distribute their products. They are also working with other transportation companies like FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) that have already perfected temperature-monitoring systems to safely transport a vaccine where needed.