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FedEx is set to play a big role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines

FedEx is set to play a big role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Here’s what to know

FedEx covid-19 vaccinesA mission testing the mettle of FedEx Express’ high-speed delivery network is fast approaching.

Distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses throughout the world will train even more attention on shipping giants like FedEx. The company is already grappling with the peak shipping season on top of elevated package volumes during the pandemic.

Here are key questions and answers about Memphis-based FedEx’s participation in shipping COVID-19 vaccines, once a candidate is approved by regulators.

A mission testing the mettle of FedEx Express’ high-speed delivery network is fast approaching.

Distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses throughout the world will train even more attention on shipping giants like FedEx. The company is already grappling with the peak shipping season on top of elevated package volumes during the pandemic.

Here are key questions and answers about Memphis-based FedEx’s participation in shipping COVID-19 vaccines, once a candidate is approved by regulators.

What role will FedEx play in vaccine distribution?

In the U.S., FedEx will be among the parties helping move a future COVID-19 vaccine from manufacturers and distributors to vaccine injection sites like hospitals and clinics.

FedEx Express executive Richard Smith told “Good Morning America” the company “will be able to get a vaccine to every administration site or dosing center that is administering the vaccines to the American public in these communities where they are waiting for these vaccines.”

He added that in the U.S., FedEx will be able to ship vaccines from a manufacturer to a vaccination site “absolutely, positively overnight,” referencing the company’s famous tagline.

Why is FedEx involved?

The company’s express shipping network is well-suited for fast, reliable vaccine distribution, including from a global standpoint, Express CEO Don Colleran said on an earnings call earlier this year.

“There’s a very good chance that the raw ingredients are going to be made in one country, the manufacturing of the vaccines in another country, another region, and the consumption and need for this is global, and this is why we’re uniquely positioned,” Colleran said.

FedEx is on daily calls with major U.S. government agencies, health care manufacturers and distributors about plans to ship the vaccine, according to Smith.

It’s a familiar stage for the company, which worked with health care giants and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a plan for distributing an H1N1 vaccine and participated in a government initiative to speed up the shipments of needed COVID-19 supplies.

FedEx CEO

Richard Smith CEO FedEx Logistics

What are the obstacles in vaccine distribution?

Each vaccine candidate has different shipping requirements. Most notably, temperatures well below freezing are needed to store candidates from Pfizer and Moderna.

Temperature-controlled packaging and monitoring aim to keep these vaccines from spoiling during transit. If unexpected transportation delays occur like inclement weather, FedEx can use its more than 90 cold chain facilities to keep them cold during the slowdown.

However, Smith told The Commercial Appeal in September the goal is to have vaccines delivered rapidly and reliably, not sitting in the company’s cold chain facilities.

“This is going to have to be a just-in-time supply chain with fresh packages containing vaccines and syringes and the other things the injection sites need coming in every day,” said Smith, FedEx Express regional president of the Americas and executive vice president of global support.

COVID-19 vaccine distribution will test temperature-controlled shipping like never before, and air transport hasn’t had a spotless history in vaccine delivery. In 2015, the International Air Transport Association said 25% of vaccines are degraded when they reach their destination because of improper shipping.

Smith said the company is best positioned out of anyone in the transportation industry to aid in distribution efforts, but he acknowledged that a big challenge will be how effective injection sites will be in quickly administering the vaccine. Not every site will have sizable cold storage capabilities.

“These vaccines were formulated to get to market quickly without added preservatives, so they will degrade or they can become contaminated,” Smith said.

How many vaccine doses will FedEx ship?

There won’t be enough vaccine doses for everyone right away. About 40 million doses of the two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are expected to be available by the end of December, USA TODAY reported. That’s enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

In the long term, however, the International Air Transport said “providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft.” That’s a big delivery, even when spread across multiple shippers — FedEx Express had 679 aircraft in its fleet as of May, many of which are smaller, feeder planes.

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