FedEx, UPS collaborate on VIP treatment for coronavirus vaccine deliveries

Date: Friday, December 11, 2020
Source: Supply Chain Dive

  • FedEx and UPS are working closely together on the logistics of vaccine deliveries and have divided up the U.S. by states between the two companies, UPS President of Global Healthcare Wes Wheeler said in his Senate testimony Thursday.
  • "FedEx and UPS have split the country into two; we know exactly what states we have and they know what states they have," Wheeler said. "We're guaranteeing overnight from the time that it leaves the Pfizer location or the McKesson location until it arrives the next morning at 10:30." UPS did not respond when asked for details on how the states are divided between the companies, but at one point in the hearing, Wheeler said UPS was responsible for Connecticut.
  • FedEx and UPS said the vaccines will be given priority on their networks. But FedEx Express Regional President of the Americas Richard Smith noted that peak-season volume will largely travel on the company's Ground network while the vaccines will use its Express operation.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., began questioning the logistics companies by asking how they would ensure there is room for the vaccine when holiday volume has already tightened its available capacity.

The executives said they've known for months they would need to plan for a peak season and vaccine transportation, thanks to their collaboration with Operation Warp Speed.

"The FedEx Ground system, which we've been investing in tremendously, will handle the bulk of the surging online retail orders of all your Christmas presents," Smith said. "And the Express network focuses more on time-definite critical deliveries, like vaccines — that is the company that will be focused on delivering your mission-critical vaccines."

Forecasting also played an important role in the planning effort, according to Wheeler.

"About two or three months ago, we started building a forecasting model, trying to predict, as best we could, how many vaccine companies would be approved this year, next year," he said.

The model considered the manufacturing locations for the vaccine companies so UPS could identify the origin of all the shipments, and it accounted for the doses per shipment to help predict how much capacity it should reserve in its network.

"We have reserved plenty of capacity in all the lanes from all the manufacturing locations, even for the vaccines that are still in development," Wheeler said.

The vaccine shipments will then be given VIP treatment through the networks. Wheeler said the pilots flying the inoculations will know what's onboard, and the trailers hauling them over the road will have escorts. The companies are also communicating with the Federal Aviation Administration to let them know what flights will contain vaccines to ensure they get priority.

All the while, a stream of data will be sent to Operation Warp Speed headquarters to help monitor the shipments. UPS said there will be three data streams for the Pfizer shipments: a label on the shipment with radio beacons transmitting the location, a GPS tracker in the trucks that provides temperature and light exposure data, and data from Pfizer's package.

"All that data streams into our command center, and we transmit that data to Operation Warp Speed," Wheeler said. "So, we were all watching the packages all day long."

The vaccines won't be the only items being transported to inoculation sites. The Pfizer candidate also requires a vaccine diluent, and all the immunizations require ancillary supplies, such as syringes and needles. McKesson has stockpiled 150 million of these kits already. Wheeler said the kits will leave UPS a day before the vaccine.

But Rachel Levine, the secretary of health for Pennsylvania, said there have been some issues with the delivery of ancillary supplies in mock shipments that have taken place.

"In approximately [a quarter] of states, at least one significant issue arose during the mock shipment that requires attention prior to shipping actual vaccine," Levine wrote in her written testimony. "States experienced vaccine arrivals with a 2-day lag in the arrival of ancillary supplies. Vaccine that arrives without the ancillary supplies required to administer it will delay the vaccination of key prioritized populations."


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