Delta Air Lines transports its first coronavirus vaccine shipments

Flights traveled from Detroit to Atlanta and San Francisco

Delta Air Lines said it transported its first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines on flights from Detroit to Atlanta and San Francisco.

Atlanta-based Delta said the vaccines were shipped Tuesday with the highest priority and monitored by the company’s “Vaccine Watch Tower,” a special system to track shipments with the airline’s flight operations department.

The airline said its cargo unit responded quickly to the task, handling the coronavirus vaccines within three hours of the request. Delta, which is certified by the International Air Transport Association to handle temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, said it created a vaccine task force months ago to prepare for the shipments.

Delta did not divulge the final destination of Tuesday’s shipments.

While package delivery giants UPS and FedEx are responsible for distributing the vaccines across the country, Delta and other passenger airlines are prepared to handle vaccine shipments on request.

The airline earlier this month said it was in discussions with vaccine manufacturers, and that carriers could be paid for vaccine shipments by freight forwarders or by the manufacturers.

Delta has a 40,000-square-foot cold chain facility at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is certified to handle temperature- and time-sensitive pharmaceuticals. It also has cooler facilities at other hubs and locations around the world that can handle pharmaceutical shipments.

While Delta doesn’t operate a fleet of cargo freighters, it can use belly cargo space on its passenger flights and operates cargo-only charter flights.

Other carriers including United Airlines and American Airlines have also handled shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines.