US Vaccine Campaign Begins With 1st Shipments Delivering Hope To Millions

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Cargo planes and trucks with the first U.S. shipments of coronavirus vaccine fanned out from FedEx and UPS hubs in Tennessee and Kentucky on Sunday en route to distribution points around the country, launching an immunization project of unprecedented scope and complexity.

The inoculations, seen as pivotal to ultimately halting a surging pandemic that is claiming more than 2,400 U.S. lives a day, could begin as early as Monday.

The first are likely to be at vaccination sites closest to any of the 145 initial shipment destinations nationwide, or those nearest the FedEx Corp or United Parcel Service cargo centers that are relaying deliveries from the factory.

Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky suggested the very first injections of the vaccine will be given in his state, home to the UPS Worldport sorting facility in Louisville – one of two distribution command centers. The other is the FedEx air cargo hub in Memphis, Tennessee.

“We now believe that the first individuals will be vaccinated here in the commonwealth tomorrow morning. We are less than 24 hours away from the beginning of the end of this virus,” Beshear wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

The coronavirus vaccine, developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, gained emergency-use approval from federal regulators late on Friday, clearing the way for distribution to begin a mere 11 months after the United States documented its first COVID-19 infections.

The monumental undertaking began early on Sunday with trucks carrying dry ice-cooled packages of vaccine – which must be kept at sub-Arctic temperatures – from Pfizer’s facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to UPS and FedEx planes waiting at air fields in Lansing and Grand Rapids.

Two Hubs, Many Spokes

From there, the delivery jets whisked the shipments to UPS and FedEx’s respective cargo hubs in Louisville and Memphis, for distribution on planes and trucks to the first 145 of 636 vaccine-staging areas across the country. A second and third waves of vaccine shipments were due to go out to the remaining sites on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Today, we’re not hauling freight, we’re delivering hope,” said Andrew Boyle, co-president of Boyle Transportation, which was hired by UPS to help ferry vaccine from the factory to a waiting plane in Lansing.

The precious cargo was escorted to airports by body-armor-clad security officers.

Boyle employee Bonnie Brewer, 56, said decades of experience hauling chemotherapies and other life-saving drugs prepared her for the historic run.

“It feels amazing,” Brewer told Reuters after the cargo was safely handed off.

Healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care homes will be first in line to get the inoculations of a two-dose regimen given about three weeks apart.

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