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December 20, 2020 11:15 AM, EST

Moderna Vaccine Distribution Begins Via FedEx, UPS

FedEx truck carrying Moderna vaccineA FedEx truck loaded with boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine leaves the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., Dec. 20. (Paul Sancya, Pool/Associated Press)

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Initial shipments of the second COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S. left a distribution center Dec. 20, a desperately needed boost as the nation works to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.

FedEx trucks left the Olive Branch, Miss., factory, near Memphis, Tenn., with the vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health. The much-needed shots are expected to be given starting Dec. 21, just three days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized their emergency rollout.

Vaccine doses from Moderna, headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., will be shipped in bulk to McKesson’s centralized distribution centers, such as the one in Mississippi, according to the company’s vaccine distribution plan and the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. At these centers, McKesson will pack vaccines and deliver them through FedEx Corp. and UPS Inc.

Boxes containing Moderna vaccine

Boxes containing the Moderna vaccinea are prepared for packaing. (Paul Sancya, Pool/Associated Press)

FedEx, which like UPS delivered the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine this week, said in a statement its “operations are in motion” to distribute the Moderna shot.

UPS will truck the vaccine from a Kentucky facility to a nearby airfield for flights across the U.S. Deliveries begin Dec. 21, said Wes Wheeler, chief of UPS’ healthcare unit, according to Bloomberg News.

In Louisville, Ky., UPS driver Todd Elble said his vaccine shipment was the “most important load that I’ve hauled” in a 37-year career. His parents contracted COVID-19 in November, and his 78-year-old father died. He said the family speculates that his father got infected while traveling on a hunting trip with four other relatives to Wyoming, and some are still sick.

“I’m going to take the vaccine myself. I’m going to be first in line for my father — I’ll tell you that much — and any others that should follow,” he said. “I feel in my heart that everybody should, to help get this stopped.”

He added: “To bring this back, I feel Dad was in the truck with me today.”

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser to the federal government’s vaccine distribution effort, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that nearly 8 million doses will be distributed Dec. 21, about 5.9 million of the Moderna vaccine and 2 million of the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. He said the first Moderna shots should be given Dec. 21.

Also on Dec. 20, an expert committee began considering who should be next in line for early doses of the Moderna vaccine and the one from Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Pfizer’s shots were first shipped out a week ago and started being used the next day, kicking off the nation’s biggest vaccination drive.

Public health experts say the shots — and others in the pipeline — are the only way to stop a virus that has been spreading wildly. Nationwide, more than 219,000 people per day on average test positive for the virus, which has killed over 316,000 in the U.S. and nearly 1.7 million worldwide.

The Pfizer and Moderna shots shipped so far and in the next few weeks are nearly all going to health care workers and residents of long-term care homes, based on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

There won’t be enough shots for the general population until spring, so doses will be rationed at least for the next several months. President-elect Joe Biden pledged earlier this month to have 100 million doses distributed in his first 100 days in office, and his surgeon general nominee said Dec. 20 that it’s still a realistic goal.

But Vivek Murthy, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said it’s more realistic to think it may be midsummer or early fall before coronavirus vaccines are available to the general population, rather than late spring. Murthy said Biden’s team is working toward having the shots available to lower-risk individuals by late spring, but doing so requires “everything to go exactly on schedule.”

“I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to midsummer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population,” Murthy said. “So, we want to be optimistic, but we want to be cautious as well.”

UPS Inc. ranks No. 1 and FedEx Corp. No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

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