“You have two strong rivals here in FedEx and UPS who are literally teaming up to make this happen,” Richard Smith, a FedEx executive, told the Senate Subcommittee on Transport and Security on Thursday.
Both companies said the shipments would be closely tracked and monitored and given priority over other packages. To ship the vaccine, Pfizer has developed special containers filled with enough dry ice to keep at least 975 cans cool for up to 10 days. Each comes with a tracking device.
Like UPS, FedEx said it would also attach its own tracking tags to vaccine shipments. Every UPS truck that carries the cans will have a device that tracks its location, temperature, exposure and movement, Mr Wheeler told senators. The company’s trucks will also have escorts, he said Thursday. It is not clear if he was referring to the local police or other government officials or possibly private guards, and he declined to elaborate on this and other details in the interview, citing security concerns. But the trucks leaving Pfizer’s factory are tracked “minute by minute,” he said.
The vaccine delivery kits were put together by McKesson, a medical supplier that has been asked by federal agencies to act as the central distributor of the vaccines and supplies such as syringes and alcohol wipes. Unlike Pfizer, Moderna, whose vaccine could soon be approved, plans to have McKesson package its vaccines alongside supplies, Smith said.
In the case of Pfizer, UPS plans to ship the kits – from a McKesson location in Kentucky – before the vaccine so that errors can be identified with addresses in its system, Wheeler said Thursday. The kits include a syringe, a substance used to dilute the vaccines, personal protective equipment, instructions and mixing vials, he said.
Shippers have spent months upgrading the cold store infrastructure for the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. UPS, for example, has installed ultra-low temperature freezers capable of keeping goods as low as minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit near their air freight centers in the US and Europe. Its Louisville hub also plans to produce more than 24,000 pounds of dry ice a day. FedEx has also added ultra-cold freezers to its US network.
The airlines have also prepared to ship the vaccines, working with aircraft manufacturers and the Federal Aviation Administration to safely move more dry ice than is normally allowed. United Airlines announced on Saturday that it has shipped batches of the vaccine from Brussels to Chicago on five cargo-only flights this month. (Pfizer also makes the vaccine at a facility in Puurs, Belgium.)
UPS also sends the FAA a daily file of their flights so it can prioritize others, Wheeler said. The company is also in daily contact with officials involved in Operation Warp Speed.