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Carriers begin US vaccine transport efforts

written by Hannah Dowling | December 16, 2020

FedEx Boeing 777-FS2 holds as Polar Air Boeing 767-3JHF N643GT lands at Narita Airport (Dave Soda)

Carriers around the US have already begun efforts to transport the recently approved Pfizer vaccine around the country.

The US Food and Drug Administration provided the necessary regulatory approval for use of the vaccine on Friday, providing the ultimate test for the aviation industry, which has spent months preparing to distribute the temperature-sensitive vaccines.

Following Friday’s announcement, express freight carriers FedEx and UPS had reportedly already made their first deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine to 425 medical centres and drop locations by Tuesday.

These carriers transported the bulk of the immediate first-phase of vaccine distribution, however as distribution ramps up, major airline players will be required. Around 6.4 million Pfizer vaccine doses are scheduled to be delivered by the end of the year.

American Airlines has announced that it too has begun shipping COVID-19 vaccines within days of the FDA’s approval.

The major airline began flying vaccines out of Chicago on its Boeing 777-200 aircraft on Sunday night, bound for an unidentified US territory in the Caribbean

“We were able to mobilise within hours of getting the call to move thousands of doses,” American Airlines cargo president Jessica Tyler said in a statement. 


“We know this is the first of many shipments to come, and we are ready to scale our operation as additional vaccines are produced and ready for distribution.”

Meanwhile, United Airlines has said it too has begun the transport of COVID vaccines around the US, doing so via the cargo hold bellies of passenger aircraft.

“We’re now continuing to meet with our partners to try to lay out a more scheduled flow of the vaccines,” said Chris Busch, United’s managing director of cargo, said in an interview Monday.

The Chicago-based airline last month became the country’s first passenger airline to transport the vaccine into the US, from the drugmaker’s manufacturing hub in Brussels.

The airline also utilised its own Boeing 777 freighter aircraft for the mission to transport an unidentified number of vaccines, however did note that the plane is capable of carrying more than 1 million vaccine doses. 

In order to keep the vaccines at appropriate sub-zero temperatures, United required a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to be allowed to carry five times more dry ice on board than is usually permitted.

While the 777s have been useful to date for overseas shipment, domestically, they wont necessarily be required.

“Domestically, it doesn’t necessarily have to be on a 777. That all depends on the size of the shipment,” Busch said. “If there’s a smaller amount, that could go on really any aircraft type.”


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