US launches historic COVID vaccine drive with convoy of trucks

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    Pfzer trucks such as this have begun to be visible in the US. (Photo from USNews)

    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.

    US regulators late on Friday authorized the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech for use, and US 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.

    US Army General Gus Perna, chief operating officer of the government’s Operation Warp Speed program, said on Saturday during a press briefing the vaccine shipments will arrive at 145 locations around the country on Monday morning. The remainder of the 636 delivery locations selected by US states and territories will receive doses on Tuesday and Wednesday, he said, adding that every week going forward Pfizer will have more doses ready for distribution and administration.

    The first shots will be administered as early as Monday.

    Healthcare workers and elderly people in long-term care facilities are expected to be the main recipients of the first wave of 2.9 million shots this month, with healthcare worker inoculations as soon as Monday and nursing home residents by the end of next week, said Perna.

    Within three weeks, the vaccine program should be able to get Pfizer’s shots to any healthcare facility in the country, Perna said.

    Pfizer’s dry-ice cooled packages can hold as many as 4,875 doses, and the first leg of their journey will be from Kalamazoo to planes positioned nearby. 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.

    From there, they will be trucked or flown to facilities close to the 145 US sites earmarked to receive the first doses.

    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. The shipments are the first of three expected this week.