May 22, 2024
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Covid-19 vaccine shipments to begin leaving Pfizer’s Kalamazoo facility on Sunday

Months of planning culminate this weekend with the first deliveries of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses – and the UPS executive overseeing his company’s efforts says it is an emotional experience.  

“Oh, probably the equivalent of going to your daughter’s wedding, I guess,” said Wes Wheeler, the president of UPS Healthcare, told CNN. “It’s been a lot of planning. A lot of a lot of phone calls, a lot of technology, a lot of alignment … As an engineer, I like to do a lot of planning, so that when day one comes, it comes smoothly.” 

Wheeler said the process that soon gets underway at the Pfizer facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, will be highly choreographed. 

“We have people embedded at the Pfizer location in Michigan, and they will be helping Pfizer to dispatch packages,” he explained. “They will be loaded onto a trailer, a dedicated trailer, with an escort. They will drive five hours to Louisville, Kentucky, and then there’ll be dispatched around to the states that we’re assigned.”

In Louisville, many of the shipments will be loaded onto UPS planes. Wheeler said the company’s extensive delivery network means it can ship doses overnight for delivery by 10:30 the next morning. UPS is handling delivery to sites on the Eastern side of the U.S. 

The company is also creating 24,000 pounds of dry ice daily that are packed into special Pfizer containers to keep the vaccine at the required sub-zero temperature. 

“The day after the vaccines arrive, we deliver 40 pounds of dry ice to replenish what is sublimating from the box,” Wheeler said. “The Pfizer package is good for 10 days with it with the 50 pounds of dry ice in it. And with the 40 pounds that we send the following day. It’ll give you another several days if necessary so the box becomes the storage medium at the dosing center.”

More details: Tracking devices on each container and truck send real-time information back to the UPS command center in Louisville. 

The tracking tags have four radios and a Bluetooth device that transmit data including GPS location, “atmospheric pressure, motion detection, light detection, and of course temperature,” he said. That data gives the company insight into the condition of each package and the dry ice inside of it. 

“We have eyes on these shipments all the way from origin to the final dosing destination,” he explained.