United Airlines starts flying Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for quick US distribution once it is approved by FDA
Suitcase-size boxes packed with dry ice have been created by Pfizer to keep its coronavirus vaccine doses cold
The United Airlines reportedly started operating charter flights on November 27 to move shipments of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine candidate and position them for quick distribution in the US. The movement takes place as an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is scheduled to meet on December 10 to discuss its emergency use authorization (EUA) for Americans.
“The initial flights are one link in a global supply chain being assembled to tackle the logistical challenge of distributing Covid-19 vaccines. Pfizer has been laying the groundwork to move quickly if it gets approval from the FDA and other regulators worldwide,” reports The Washington Post.
United intends to fly the chartered planes between Brussels International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport as part of the “first mass air shipment of a vaccine,” that is supported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), says the Post. The FAA said that it is working with airlines to safely transport Covid-19 vaccines. “Pfizer’s distribution plan also includes refrigerated storage sites at the drugmaker’s final-assembly centers in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Puurs, Belgium, and expanding storage capacity at distribution sites in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and in Karlsruhe, Germany, besides dozens of cargo flights and hundreds of truck trips each day,” adds the article
United Airlines will be allowed to carry five times (about 15,000 pounds) the amount of dry ice normally permitted on board to keep the vaccine at the necessary cold temperature. Scientists had earlier said that there may be logistical and distribution challenges with Pfizer’s vaccine. They explained that the vaccine has to be stored and shipped and moved at ultra-cold temperatures — minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 70 degrees Celsius — which could make it hard to get to some places quickly.
Suitcase-size boxes packed with dry ice have been created by Pfizer to keep its vaccine doses cold. This implies that the vaccines can be shipped quickly eliminating the need for large, temperature-controlling containers. “Pfizer is confident in its vast experience, expertise, and existing cold-chain infrastructure to distribute the vaccine around the world. The companies have developed specially designed, temperature-controlled thermal shippers, utilizing dry ice to maintain temperature conditions of -70°C±10°C. They can be used as temporary storage units for 15 days by refilling with dry ice. Each shipper contains a GPS-enabled thermal sensor to track the location and temperature of each vaccine shipment across their pre-set routes leveraging Pfizer’s broad distribution network,” Pfizer had earlier stated.
Other cargo and passenger airlines are also preparing to get vaccines to the public quickly. “American Airlines Group Inc. said it has been conducting trial flights from Miami to South America to test the thermal packaging and operational processes for shipping vaccines,” the report says.
Announcing that its vaccine candidate is 95% effective against Covid-19, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have formally submitted an application to the FDA for emergency use authorization. After the meeting on December 10, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will submit their recommendations to the agency, which is expected to make a decision shortly after that. Once the FDA gives its authorization, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will issue guidelines on who should receive the vaccine first.
Americans will receive the Pfizer vaccine for free. The company had earlier said that the US government has placed an initial order of 100 million doses for $1.95 billion and can acquire up to 500 million additional doses. Pfizer and BioNTech expect to produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.