WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — FedEx and UPS are poised to start shipping doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine around the country, and they say they have the infrastructure and staff to do it speedily.
“This is who we are and what we do,” FedEx Regional President of the Americas and Executive Vice President Richard Smith told a congressional panel. “We have years of experience in this area, shipping flu vaccines every season.”
A panel of experts voted Thursday to recommend that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve emergency use the vaccine. The FDA expected to accept that recommendation; that could come any time.
Also Thursday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee questioned FedEx and UPS executives about their companies’ readiness. UPS Healthcare President Wesley Wheeler promised his company was prepared to deliver the vaccines “by air, ground or ocean.”
He and Smith said their companies increased staffing and are working daily with the federal Operation Warp Speed to ensure a smooth distribution.
“Our 3,000 U.S.-based pilots will know they are carrying vaccines,” Wheeler said. “Our trailers will have escorts. We will monitor all vaccine shipments in a newly dedicated 24/7 command center.”
Some lawmakers were worried that some states and cities lack the resources to do their part. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said the federal government must provide more aid.
“We’ve got to get this right,” Baldwin said. “(Wisconsin) estimates they will need an additional $10 million for vaccine infrastructure preparedness.”
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., asked whether there will be enough dry ice to keep doses, which must be kept at temperatures well below freezing, from spoiling en route to rural areas, noting two thirds of his state is designated rural.
“We actually built a dry ice manufacturing plant in Kentucky and we can provide that to independent hospitals and clinics across the country,” Wheeler assured Peters.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., asked if the companies will be able to swiftly adapt delivery methods to fit the vaccines, noting, “that’s going to require a high level of ingenuity.”
“That’s not really a challenge,” Smith said. “This is what we do every day.”
The first vaccine shipments will go to health care workers and nursing homes. Operation Warp Speed leaders expect 20 million doses to be out by the end of the month.