United Airlines reportedly started flying COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer on Friday in order to facilitate distribution of the vaccine should it ultimately be approved by federal regulators.
The Wall Street Journal, citing “people familiar with the matter,” reports that United Airlines has been commissioned for charter flights to transport Pfizer vaccines. While it’s not clear how many flights have been chartered, WSJ previously reported Pfizer plans to charter twenty flights per day.
From the WSJ:
The FAA said in a statement Friday that it was supporting the “first mass air shipment of a vaccine,” and that it is working with airlines to safely transport Covid-19 vaccines.
Estimates from the International Air Trade Association, a Canada-based organization, earlier this year suggested that it would take 8,000 Boeing-747s to distribute 7.8 billion vaccines across the world. Pfizer’s vaccine, however, requires two doses and minus -94 degree Fahrenheit storage, inherently complicating factors for a monstrous operation.
To allow for easier distribution, Pfizer has designed “cool boxes,” which are roughly the size of carry-on luggage, reports CBS News. While each cool box can hold between 1,000 and 5,000 vaccines at the proper temperature for 10 days, Pfizer says the average delivery time, from start to finish, will be about three days, according to WSJ.
“Every box is a small box like that and can take 1,000 to 5,000 doses. We don’t need to use refrigeration. So we can ship it in cars, trucks, planes, boats, whatever. In the U.S., we will ship to most of the places overnight,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
“So once we receive an address from the government, the next day the product will be there,” continued Bourla. “And once people receive it they can keep it for weeks in the box or they can keep it for months in their freezers or they can put it in refrigeration and keep it for a week, approximately. I think that the demand will be so big, it’s going to be injected in hours rather than days or weeks. So we feel very confident about it.”
Should the vaccine receive approval, the Trump administration expects 6.4 million Pfizer vaccines to be distributed within 24 hours, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Should the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine be approved as well, federal officials expect to have 40 million vaccines by the end of December 2020 — enough to vaccinate 20 million people.
According to Pfizer, the primary efficacy analysis for its stage three trials shows the vaccine to be around 95% effective against COVID-19 beginning one month after the first of two doses. Pfizer also says the vaccine was effective within all trial participants regardless of race, sex, and age (the efficacy for people over the age of 65 was 94%).
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told Fox News on Tuesday that he expects a COVID-19 vaccine will reach its first recipients in the United States “probably by the end of the second week in December.” These vaccines, said Dr. Redfield, would be distributed “in a hierarchical way,” such as to “nursing home residents and then some combination of health care providers and individuals at high risk for a poor outcome.”
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