UPS begins shipping kits in advance of Pfizer vaccine

UPS has begun shipping kits that will be used to administer COVID-19 vaccines, in advance of the vaccines themselves.

The kits include syringes, personal protective equipment, mixing vials and fluid, as well as instructions for those administering the vaccine.

The first kits began arriving Thursday morning, UPS Healthcare President Wes Wheeler said during testimony at a Senate committee hearing Thursday.

McKesson, the government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine distribution partner, has already built 150 million test kits, according to Wheeler.

Sandy Springs-based UPS is shipping all of the kits for the Pfizer vaccine nationally, while UPS and FedEx are both shipping the vaccine itself. A day after each vaccine shipment across the country, UPS is also shipping supplemental dry ice to keep the supply at the ultra-freezing temperatures required for the Pfizer vaccine.

“You have two fierce rivals here, competitors — in FedEx and UPS — who literally are teaming up to get this delivered,” Richard Smith, FedEx Express regional president for the Americas, said at the same hearing. “It’s almost like two rival college football teams...coming together on the same NFL team to play as teammates.”

The Federal Aviation Administration will prioritize flights with vaccine shipments, according to Wheeler.

Passenger carriers such as Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines as well as United and American will help to transport vaccines internationally, such as from Europe to the United States, while FedEx and UPS will distribute them across the country.

Wheeler said UPS vaccine shipments will have labels embedded with tracking technology to be given priority in sorting facilities. When a vaccine shipment arrives, “it goes on the plane first, it comes off the plane first.”

Shipping and logistics companies face the daunting challenge of preparing for the first rounds of urgent vaccine shipments at the same time as the holiday shipping rush.

UPS hired 100,000 temporary workers to staff up for its peak holiday season.

“We have reserved plenty of capacity in all the lanes from all the (vaccine) manufacturing locations, even for the vaccines that are still in development,” Wheeler said. “We’re ready now.”

With vaccine shipments expected to continue well into next year, Smith said FedEx would “maintain a lot of those team members that we’ve staffed up for peak, to continue with this vaccine distribution.”

UPS also typically hires a number of its seasonal workers into permanent positions after the holidays.

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