On the move: First doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have flown to U.S. from Belgium

The first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine are on the move. United Airlines is flying the vaccine to the United States, though the airline is not confirming any specifics of the operation. When the vaccine receives final approval, the doses will be in position for quick distribution.

In October, the FAA established the FAA COVID-19 Vaccine Air Transport Team to support the mass air shipments of the vaccines. Special accommodations have to be in place to transport the shipments, including a large amount of dry ice cargo to keep the vaccine at an extremely cold temperature. It is being reported that the FAA is allowing United to carry 15,000 pounds of dry ice per flight. That amount is five times over the normally permitted limit.

“As a result of the historic pace of vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed and careful logistics planning, the FAA today is supporting the first mass air shipment of a vaccine,” the FAA statement read.

“The FAA established the ‘FAA COVID-19 Vaccine Air Transport Team’ in October to ensure safe, expeditious, and efficient transportation of vaccines. Several vaccines need continued cold temperatures during transport, which, in some circumstances, require dry ice, a hazardous material,” the statement added.

The transport team works with the COVID Vaccine Readiness Task Team. There are several moving parts to the mass transportation and distribution effort that will be necessary to get the vaccine to everyone. United Airlines is remaining silent, though, on which flights carry the vaccines. It will be an around-the-clock operation with flights carrying the vaccine receiving priority.

A United spokesperson told The Hill in a statement on Friday that the vaccine rollout was being handled by United Cargo, which established a COVID Vaccine Readiness Task Team earlier this year “to help ensure we have the right people, products, services, and partnerships in place to support a vaccine distribution effort on a global scale.”

“We have made a commitment to our pharmaceutical and medical customers that we are ready to safely and effectively support their vaccines transportation needs,” the spokesperson added, noting that the safety and security of the vaccine “is our priority.”

Pfizer is waiting for emergency use authorization (EUA). A request was submitted to the FDA last week. Pfizer’s vaccine was developed in partnership with the German biotechnology company BioNTech. Part of Pfizer’s distribution plan includes using refrigerated storage sites across the United States and Europe. Dozens of cargo flights and hundreds of truck trips will be necessary every day. The United Kingdom is expected to approve Pfizer’s vaccine this week.

Just nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, a vaccine is available and waiting for final approval, thanks to Operation Warp Speed. The success of this public-private partnership cannot be overstated.

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