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United Airlines flies FIRST batches of Pfizer COVID vaccine in US

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 11/28/2020 Harriet Alexander For Dailymail.com
a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

United Airlines on Friday began operating charter flights to move shipments of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccination ahead of a mass inoculation program expected to begin in late December, according to a report.

The flights are the first step in a global supply and distribution network, which is being prepared to spring into action when the vaccine is approved by regulators.

The airline has been granted special permission by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to fly with increased quantities of dry ice, to keep the vaccine cold. 

Pfizer's vaccination must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

The specific chartered routes being flown were not specified by the Wall Street Journal, which reported the news.

But it was revealed that United intends on flying cargo flights between the Belgian capital, Brussels, and Chicago's O'Hare airport to support distribution of the vaccine, according to a November 24 letter from the FAA viewed by the Journal.

Brussels and Chicago are both convenient international airports for Pfizer's plants in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Puurs, Belgium, where the final assembly of the vaccine takes place.

Chicago is also close to Pfizer's distribution site in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, which is being expanded in preparation for the vaccine roll out. 

The company has another distribution site in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Pfizer also plans dozens of cargo flights and hundreds of truck trips each day once approval is given by authorities.  

graphical user interface, application: Pfizer's vaccine is reportedly being transported by United Airlines in readiness for distribution © Provided by Daily Mail Pfizer's vaccine is reportedly being transported by United Airlines in readiness for distribution a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: United Airlines have been granted permission to fly an increased quantity of dry ice for cooling © Provided by Daily Mail United Airlines have been granted permission to fly an increased quantity of dry ice for cooling

The FAA said in a statement on 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 asked the FAA to be allowed to carry more dry ice than is typically allowed on flights, in a bid to keep the vaccine cool.


Video: First doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine on the move (NBC News)

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The FAA said it would allow United to carry 15,000 pounds of dry ice per flight, which is five times more than normally allowed - dry ice is controlled on passenger planes because of concerns about leaks of carbon dioxide, which may not be detected mid air.

Pfizer have created suitcase-size boxes packed with dry ice to keep its vaccine doses cold, the paper reported.

It means they can ship the vaccine quicker, by eliminating the need for large temperature-controlling containers.

a man standing in front of a refrigerator: Pfizer's vaccine must be stored in incredibly low temperatures in a facility like the one shown © Provided by Daily Mail Pfizer's vaccine must be stored in incredibly low temperatures in a facility like the one shown

Pfizer's vaccine, one of several being developed, is giving hope to billions of people around the world. 

In the US, the FDA will meet on December 10 in an emergency session, to be live streamed, where they will discuss authorizing the vaccine's use. 

Pfizer requested emergency use on November 20.

How much vaccine is available and when is a moving target, but initial supplies will be scarce and rationed. 

Last week Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed - the US government's program for coordinating distribution and administration of the drug - said that 4.1 million doses would be initially distributed. 

Gustave F. Perna wearing a uniform: Gustave Perna was due to retire this year: instead he has been handed a huge and vital task © Provided by Daily Mail Gustave Perna was due to retire this year: instead he has been handed a huge and vital task

Pfizer has been conducting dry runs of each step, from vaccine delivery to opening Pfizer's GPS-tracked special containers to vaccine storage, Perna said. 

The vaccine will be free for Americans. It was unclear whether those with Green Cards or in the country on visas would be included.

Arguments are brewing over who will pay. The federal government is covering a significant chunk of the cost, but states say they need extra funds to pay for associated costs of monitoring and administering the vaccine. 

Perna said they were aware that the 6.4 million doses were not even enough to vaccinate all of the country's 20 million health-care workers, let alone the U.S. population of 330 million. 

But he said 'a steady drumbeat' of additional doses will be delivered as manufacturing capacity ramps up in each successive week. 

About 25 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine may become available in December, 30 million in January and 35 million more in February and March, according to information presented to the National Academy of Medicine at the end of November. 

Recipients will need two doses, three weeks apart. 

The CDC will meet on Tuesday to decide on recommendations for who should get it first, based on the data and known side effects.

Healthcare workers and vulnerable populations, such as those in nursing homes, are likely to get the first doses, followed by seniors.

It is believed that the general population will receive the vaccine around April. 

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