Weekly Column

**Audio is not available of this week’s column**

By now, we’ve all heard the good news about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Each of them is roughly 95-percent effective against COVID-19, and they have both been approved by the FDA.

Thanks to Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership between the federal government and these manufacturers, we have developed these vaccines in record time. But creating a vaccine is only part of the battle. The next challenge is getting hundreds of millions of doses where they need to go. 

I’m the chairman of the Senate Commerce Transportation and Safety Subcommittee, which oversees federal transportation policy. On December 10, I held a hearing in Washington to discuss the logistics of transporting a COVID-19 vaccine with a state official as well as officials from FedEx and UPS, two companies who will be central to delivering the vast majority of vaccine doses.

We heard from Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health and the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Dr. Levine provided insight into the types of logistics challenges all states could face as they work to distribute the vaccine. She highlighted, for example, that states and local governments will need more funding to distribute these vaccines and to get the word out to the public. The most recent relief package provides $8.75 billion in funding for vaccine distribution.

Richard Smith, executive vice president of FedEx, and Wesley Wheeler, UPS’s president for global healthcare, testified about what their companies have done to prepare for one of the biggest logistical challenges in recent memory. As you can imagine, the holidays are the busiest time of the year for shipping companies even in normal times, and during the pandemic there has been a surge in online shopping.

Thankfully, both UPS and FedEx said they have been planning for months to deliver the vaccines along with their regular orders. I was pleased to hear that UPS has hired 100,000 additional employees for peak season, and that FedEx has hired 70,000. The witnesses said they plan to keep many of these workers on well into the new year to handle these additional shipments. 

The first vaccines have already been delivered, but shipping volume will only increase throughout the first months of 2021. Operation Warp Speed officials have estimated that roughly 20 million doses will be delivered this month, with 60 million more coming in January and another 100 million in February.

During the hearing, UPS and FedEx made it clear that the vaccines are a top priority. They each said that they will be able to deliver vaccines anywhere in the country by 10:30am the next day. This will be crucial as the number of vaccine doses and administration sites expand, and prompt delivery will potentially save thousands of lives between now and the end of the pandemic.

The shipping companies also outlined their plans to track each vaccine shipment. Each shipment will have its own tracking device, which will tell FedEx and UPS exactly where it is at any given time. 

Perhaps most importantly, each shipment will be monitored to ensure it remains at the necessary temperature throughout the entire process. That temperature is a notable negative 94 degrees for the Pfizer vaccine and negative four degrees for Moderna’s. Fortunately, our witnesses assured me that they have everything they need to make this happen.

These vaccines are FDA-approved, effective, and on the way. It was so encouraging to see footage of the first Americans being vaccinated on December 14. We have a long way to go until the majority of our citizens are vaccinated, but we should all be grateful to see the progress being made and keep the faith that a return to normalcy is on the horizon.

Bruce and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Stay safe and take care.