United Begins Flying Pfizer's Covid-19 Vaccine -- Update
By Alison Sider and Peter Loftus
United Airlines Holdings Inc. on Friday began operating charter
flights to position doses of Pfizer Inc.'s Covid-19 vaccine for
quick distribution if the shots are approved by regulators,
according to people familiar with the matter.
The initial flights are one link in a vast global supply chain
being assembled to tackle the logistical challenge of distributing
Covid-19 vaccines. Pfizer has been laying the groundwork to move
quickly if it gets approval from the Food and Drug Administration
and other regulators around the world.
Pfizer's distribution plan also includes refrigerated storage
sites at the drugmaker's final-assembly centers in Kalamazoo,
Mich., and Puurs, Belgium, and adding storage capacity at
distribution sites in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., and in Karlsruhe,
Germany, in addition to dozens of cargo flights and hundreds of
truck trips each day. Pfizer declined to comment on United's role
in the plan.
United plans to fly chartered cargo flights between Brussels
International Airport and Chicago O'Hare International Airport to
support distribution of the vaccine, according to a Nov. 24 letter
from the Federal Aviation Administration viewed by The Wall Street
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.
United had sought permission to carry more dry ice than is
typically allowed on flights to maintain the extremely low
temperatures required to prevent Pfizer's vaccine from spoiling.
The FAA said it would allow United to carry 15,000 pounds of dry
ice per flight -- five times more than normally permitted.
Regulators restrict the amount of dry ice that can be carried on
passenger jets because they typically lack equipment to monitor and
mitigate any leaked carbon dioxide.
Pfizer designed suitcase-size boxes packed with dry ice to keep
its vaccine doses cold, avoiding the larger,
temperature-controlling containers used in transportation, giving
it more flexibility to ship the vaccines faster.
Last week, Pfizer requested U.S. authorization for emergency use
of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech SE of Germany.
The FDA has scheduled a Dec. 10 meeting for a panel of outside
advisers to help review the evidence behind Pfizer's request and
vote whether to recommend that the vaccine be cleared for broad use
in the U.S. The FDA could make that determination soon after the
advisory panel's vote, setting up the potential for the start of
distribution by mid-December.
Unlike traditional vaccine rollouts, Pfizer plans to bypass
distribution wholesalers, including McKesson Corp., which has been
tapped by the U.S. government to distribute other Covid-19 vaccines
through the federal Operation Warp Speed program.
Moderna Inc. has said it expects to request FDA authorization of
its Covid-19 vaccine by early December. If the FDA clears it in
December, officials are expected to have enough doses of both
vaccines to immunize about 20 million Americans.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in
talks with state immunization officials to identify sites in each
state where vaccine doses can be stored while awaiting FDA
Other cargo and passenger airlines are also preparing for the
global push to get vaccines to the public quickly. FedEx Corp. and
DHL International GmBH have introduced temperature-monitoring
systems to track future vaccine shipments. United Parcel Service
Inc. and Deutsche Lufthansa AG are building "freezer farms"
combining multiple refrigerators at their airport hubs to store
vaccines in transit.
Write to Alison Sider at email@example.com and Peter Loftus
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 27, 2020 16:56 ET (21:56 GMT)
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