Major Airlines Prep for COVID Vaccine Distribution Process

Cargo carriers tasked with the toughest job of the year.



The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it is supporting the “first mass air shipment” of COVID vaccines, as pharmaceutical companies and airlines gear for large-scale and wide geographic distribution.

The “FAA COVID-19 Vaccine Air Transport Team” was created in October to ensure safe and rapid transportation of coronavirus vaccines.

“The FAA is ensuring around-the-clock air traffic services to keep air cargo moving and prioritizing flights carrying cargo, such as vaccines, and personnel critical to the nation’s response to and recovery from COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement.

Coronavirus vaccines are to be kept cool, some may even need to be deep-frozen. In order to keep vaccine doses cold, pharmaceutical companies are relying on boxes packed with dry ice.

The need for large quantities of dry ice is why the FAA is involved in the vaccine distribution process. Dry ice releases carbon dioxide gas, which limits the amount that can be carried per flight. The FAA said it would allow carriers to carry 15,000 pounds of dry ice per flight – an amount that is five times more than normally permitted.

Vaccine distribution: A herculean task

There are no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized coronavirus vaccines in the U.S., however American states are ramping up to ensure equitable and rapid distribution. Under FDA regulations, vaccine cannot be delivered to doctors until it has been either licensed or authorized by the federal body. COVID-19 vaccines pre-positioned at major distribution centers will allow rapid delivery once it is authorized.

Airline carriers cargo coronavirus COVID vaccine distribution

Lufthansa Cargo, one of the world’s largest all-cargo airline, began planning way back in April in anticipation that vaccine is in the works.

On Friday, United Airlines carried Pfizer vaccine from Brussels to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech is anticipated to be authorized by the FDA by mid-December.

Lufthansa Cargo, one of the world’s largest all-cargo airline, began planning way back in April in anticipation that vaccine is in the works. Currently, a 20-member task force is hard at work formulating how to fit more payload onto the airline’s 15 Boeing Co. 777 and MD-11 freighters, along with space in its passenger fleet now flying at 25% capacity.

Under Operation Warp Speed, the White House-led plans to distribute coronavirus vaccines within 24 hours of FDA authorization.

As of now, Pfizer has two plants mass-manufacturing COVID vaccine, one in Puurs, Belgium and one in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In a statement made on Sunday, Health and Human Services confirmed the coronavirus vaccine shipments were coming from Europe.

“Operation Warp Speed leaders are aware of and facilitating vaccine shipments coming to the U.S. from Belgium. In an effort to minimize the potential risk to delivery and distribution, we are unable to provide specific details regarding where vaccines are produced and stored,” said the statement.

The pharmaceutical leader also had a distribution side in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin where COVID vaccine is being stores. Other sites may pop up around the country where the Pfizer vaccine will be stored prior to FDA authorization.

The FDA has scheduled an advisory committee meeting for December 8, 9 and 10 to discuss COVID-19 vaccine candidate. If the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine get approval, pharmaceutical companies will need to ramp up safer delivers by as early as the third-week of December.

The vaccine distribution will be based populations across states. US states will need to determine priorities, where healthcare workers, frontline responder and the elderly will most likely be the first ones to receive the doze. The COVID vaccine will be available to the general public starting April or May of 2021.

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Christy Gren
Christy Gren is an Industry Specialist Reporter at Industry Leaders Magazine she enjoys writing about Unicorns, Silicon Valley, Startups, Business Leaders and Innovators. Her articles provide an insight about the Power Players in the field of Technology, Auto, Manufacturing, and F&B.

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