The first shipments of Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine left a factory in Michigan early on Sunday on a convoy of semi trucks, kicking off a historic effort to stop a surging pandemic that is claiming more than 2,400 lives a day in the US.
Mask-wearing workers at a Pfizer factory in Michigan began packing the first shipments of its vaccine in dry ice shortly after 6.30am on Sunday. Three trucks carrying pallets of boxed, refrigerated vaccines rolled away from the Kalamazoo facility at 8.29am, escorted by body armour-clad security officers in a pickup truck and an SUV.
The US expects to immunise 100 million people, or about 30 per cent of its population, by the end of March, US Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Dr Moncef Slaoui said in an interview with Fox News Sunday.
About 2.9 million doses of the vaccine are to travel by plane and guarded truck from Pfizer facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin to designated distribution locations, mostly hospitals. Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to bring a vaccine to market, said that 145 sites would receive the vaccine on Monday, 425 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday. He likened the operation to the Allied invasion of Europe in World War II.
“D-Day was the beginning of the end, and that’s where we are today,” he said, cautioning it would still take months “to eventually achieve victory.”
In a novel process that will need to become daily routine, workers removed pizza-boxed sized cartons containing vaccine vials from a freezer. They placed them in large, blue coolers, before these were boxed and labelled, as shown on a network television video feed.
The massive logistical effort is complicated by the need to transport and store the vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE at minus 70 degrees Celsius, requiring enormous quantities of dry ice or specialised ultra-cold freezers.
Workers clapped and whistled as the first boxes headed to the trucks. The long-awaited moment comes as the US death toll was approaching 300,000 and infections and hospitalisations set daily records. It will take months before most US residents can get a Covid-19 vaccine.
The federal government plans to release the nation’s first 2.9 million doses to 64 states, US territories and major cities, as well as five federal agencies. Although the federal government is coordinating distribution efforts, states have the final say over who gets the first shots. The federal government is sending the first shipments to more than 600 locations.
Companies in a range of industries are lobbying state and federal officials to give priority to their workers as millions wait for the vaccine and a return to life free from the fear of the deadly illness.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in a large clinical trial was 95 per cent effective in preventing illness. It is not yet known if it prevents infection or transmission of Covid-19 by those who are vaccinated.
US regulators late on Friday authorised emergency use of the vaccine, following similar moves by the UK and Canada, less than a year after the first cases were reported in the US.
We have spent months strategising with Operation Warp Speed officials and our healthcare customers on efficient vaccine logistics, and the time has arrived to put the plan into action,” Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare, said on Saturday.