Executives of both FedEx and UPS have confirmed that coronavirus vaccines will receive GPS tracking and flight priority.
The shipping giants told a Senate transportation subcommittee on Thursday that the potentially life-saving vaccines will get priority over any other items—even as the busiest holiday shipping season on record gains more steam just two weeks before Christmas.
Richard Smith, the executive vice president of FedEx Express, noted that the company is calling it the “shipathon.”
The first 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which was already rolled out to the public in the United Kingdom on Tuesday, are on the verge of being shipped out to immunize frontline health-care workers, as well as the staff and residents of long-term care facilities.
Making the shipping of the doses more complex, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored in ice-cold temperatures of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Those getting the shot are given two doses twenty-eight days apart. Moreover, the vaccine is only viable for about five days in standard refrigeration.
The vaccines will each have special labels with tracking technology inside and will travel with devices that monitor motion and temperature.
Smith and Wes Wheeler, the president of UPS Global Healthcare, expressed confidence that the vaccines will get to the designated administration centers across the United States quickly and safely.
“Just to point out how profound this is, you have two fierce rivals … in FedEx and UPS who are literally teaming up to get this delivered,” Smith said.
Added Wheeler: “Of course, FedEx and UPS have split the country into two. We know exactly what states we have, and they know what states they have.”
UPS is also slated to deliver materials for the vaccine kits, such as diluent, syringes, and personal protective gear for medical workers who will administer the vaccine doses.
“In some cases, that relationship is interdependent, with them shipping the kitting and us shipping the vaccine to certain states, so we’re relying on one another,” Smith said.
Both executives said they are working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to alert them of planes carrying the coronavirus vaccines, so that they can receive priority takeoff and landing.
“We are in constant communication with the airline industry on daily Command Center calls and weekly calls with industry senior leadership,” the FAA said in a statement.
“We work with industry to identify priority flights and prioritize our resources to meet the greatest demand.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.