Truckers push for priority treatment in rush for early COVID vaccinations

Date: Thursday, December 17, 2020
Source: Logistics Management

Top trucking executives are pushing Washington for priority distribution and access to vaccines that the nation is hoping will inoculate workers from the ravages of the coronavirus that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans in nine months.

“Overall, with what we’ve dealt with, our essential drivers have done a fabulous job,” Darren Hawkins, CEO of Yellow Corp., which controls 10% of the less-than-truckload (LTL) market, told LM. “All these Americans have shown up effectively and are heroes. They deserve to be treated that way.”

YRC’s Hawkins said it was obvious that truck drivers are deserving of early priority in any vaccine distribution. Truck drivers also fall into categories of those most vulnerable to COVID because of comorbidities that include age (average age of a Teamsters driver in trucking in 59), overweight and hypertension.

“We have essential workers,” Hawkins said.

That undoubtedly is true. But truck drivers ought to be prepared to stand in line after health care workers, nursing home residents and others considered to be even at higher risk.

While vaccines hold promise to mitigating the spread of the killer virus, distribution plans have been a closely guarded secret. After initialing saying there would be as many as 100 million doses available by the end of the year, federal officials are scaling back those early estimates.

The first shipment is expected to cover inoculations of 3.2 million people. That is nowhere close to protecting 21 million U.S. healthcare workers. And now, government officials say, initial shipments would also go to government agencies such as the Departments of Defense, State and the Veterans Health Administration.

Two early vaccine distributions could cover 7 to 10 million people a week, provided a second vaccine from Moderna is authorized quickly. Federal officials have not disclosed exactly how many doses will be in later shipments.

Pfizer and Moderna, the two companies closest to gaining approval for their vaccines, have said they will have enough to vaccinate no more than 22.5 million Americans by January. So, lacking direction from the federal level, each state will have to decide which workers go first.

“For the time being, and the foreseeable future, the demand for vaccines is going to exceed the supply by a lot, even for the highest priority groups that are identified,” Josh Michaud, Kaiser’s associate director of global health policy, told Reuters.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) says it has taken all necessary regulatory measures for safe, rapid transportation of the coronavirus disease vaccine by land and air. With what the DOT calls “unprecedented pace” of vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed, the DOT has made preparations to enable the immediate mass shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The Department has laid the groundwork for the safe transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine and is proud to support this historic endeavor,” Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement.

Over the last several weeks DOT and Operation Warp Speed officials have been coordinating with the private sector companies that will carry the vaccines from manufacturing facilities to the distribution centers and inoculation points. The DOT has established the appropriate safety requirements for all potential hazards involved in shipping the vaccine, including standards for dry ice and lithium batteries.

Among other things, the DOT is granting a nationwide exemption to hours-of-service regulations for trucking companies and commercial drivers providing direct emergency assistance. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s long-standing emergency declaration was also recently extended until Feb. 28 to support emergency transportation of vaccines and medical supplies and equipment related to the prevention of COVID-19.

On Dec. 1, American Trucking Associations (ATA) sent letters to President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (chairman of the National Governors Association), and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

The letters emphasized that last March, the Department of Homeland Security and the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency proclaimed that truck drivers were considered critical infrastructure workers. ATA would like that designation to continue through the vaccination process.

ATA Executive Vice President for Advocacy Bill Sullivan said in the letter that it was “imperative” that truck drivers have early access to the vaccine to minimize the potential for supply chain delays and disruptions.

“Our nation’s efforts to successfully confront the COVID-19 pandemic depends on the resilience and integrity of the transportation network,” Sullivan wrote. “As we saw at the outset of the pandemic, when supply chains are disrupted, consequences are fast to follow.”



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