US says ready for domestic shipment of COVID-19 vaccines, details tentative plan for distribution

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) —  The U.S. Transportation Department said it has made preparations to enable the “immediate mass shipment” of COVID-19 vaccines and completed all necessary regulatory measures.

U.S. DOT said U.S. agencies have been coordinating with private sector companies that will carry vaccines from manufacturing facilities to distribution centers and inoculation points.

It added it has established “appropriate safety requirements for all potential hazards involved in shipping the vaccine, including standards for dry ice and lithium batteries used in cooling.”

The department is preparing to ensure deliveries of vaccine doses for about 40 million U.S. residents through January, or about 20 million a month, officials told Reuters.

Healthcare workers and others recommended for the first inoculations could start getting shots within 24 hours after the vaccine receives regulatory authorization, the chief adviser for the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed program said Tuesday.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Operation Warp Speed COO Gen. Gustave Perna and Chief Advisor Dr Moncef Slaoui held a briefing Wednesday afternoon addressing the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan. The full briefing is in the player above.

Pfizer Inc has applied for an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine.

Officials ran a drill last month simulating shipments of vaccine to ensure that all regulatory approvals were in place to allow for immediate deliveries to begin in the coming weeks.

“The department has laid the groundwork for the safe transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine and is proud to support this historic endeavor,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

The department has issued emergency regulatory relief for flight crews to support uninterrupted flight operations and respond to increased cargo demand.

Last week, Reuters reported United Airlines had begun moving shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, on charter flights to ensure it can be quickly distributed once it is approved, according to a person familiar with the matter.

American Airlines in November began trial flights from Miami to South America to prepare for its role in transporting COVID-19 vaccines, the carrier said Monday. 

This comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered authorities to begin mass voluntary vaccinations against COVID-19 next week. Also on Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech said they won permission for emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in Britain.

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