First FedEx deliveries of Moderna vaccine coming Monday

By , Daily Memphian Updated: December 21, 2020 9:58 AM CT | Published: December 20, 2020 12:01 PM CT

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine began moving out of Memphis Sunday, Dec. 20, for delivery nationwide Monday morning by FedEx.

“Wheels up: The first wave of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are now making their way from the FedEx World Hub to their final destinations throughout the US along with kits of medical supplies,” FedEx tweeted shortly after 2 p.m. CST.

That was just over four hours after a FedEx Express tractor-trailer led by a security escort entered the Memphis hub about 9:45 a.m. carrying the first load of Moderna vaccine.

Moderna vaccine moving Sunday via FedEx

All in a day’s work for members of a FedEx Express Priority Alert team running an operation to unload trailers, sort packages and load outbound planes and trucks.

“Let me brag a little bit,” said ramp agent Steve Hannahan. “Is there another company in the world that can do what we do? I’m not sure.”

“Yeah, it is a quick turnaround. We get ’em in, get ’em processed and get ’em ready to go,” said Hannahan, a 26-year FedEx employee.

Moving critical medicines or other life-saving items is a regular occurrence at FedEx, but Hannahan said this is different.

“I’m on the front line of vaccine moving that can save a family from some ultimate despair,” Hannahan said.

“It’s the first time it’s been on this scale and on this level,” he said.

Team leader Beverly Tatum added, “I feel good, even though I’m here on my off day. I don’t have any regrets or complaints about it. But I feel good knowing I’m helping someone else out.”

It makes you feel good knowing they’ve actually got a vaccine, that we might can possibly help save a life. It feels great,” added Tatum, a 20-year employee.

The morning truckload came from a McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, about 30 minutes away. It was the first of many such movements FedEx will execute as a transportation provider to Operation Warp Speed, a government-led vaccination program.

McKesson, a longstanding FedEx health care customer, is running point for the government on distribution of vaccines and supply kits for all manufacturers except those requiring storage below minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit, such as Pfizer.

Memphis airport rolls out COVID-19 testing program

Earlier Sunday, at 6:09 a.m., FedEx Express package handlers wearing bright yellow jackets ceremonially received the first box-style cooler of Moderna vaccine from a McKesson distribution center worker.

As shown on CNN, a worker walked the box across the McKesson distribution center floor to a loading dock and handed off to the FedEx truck-loading crew. Workers paused from assembling pallets of boxes of vaccine and supplies to mark the historic moment.

McKesson expanded its presence in Olive Branch to support the vaccine distribution program, building a new facility specially designed to handle vaccines and meet a range of cold storage requirements.

The start of Moderna vaccine shipping came one week after FedEx and UPS began shipping vaccine for Pfizer/BioNTech. Pfizer was the first vaccine to receive an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Moderna became the second on Friday, Dec. 18.

<strong>Joe Stephens</strong>

Joe Stephens

“The launch of the Pfizer vaccine was highly successful,” said Joe Stephens, FedEx Express senior vice president of global engineering and business transformation.

The monumental logistics effort followed months of preparation and daily planning meetings.

“To see that entire plan come together the way it did last week, actually furthered our confidence in what we were going to do this week,” Stephens said.

One measure of the success was that not a single shipment of the Pfizer vaccine wound up requiring storage in FedEx’s vaunted network cold storage facilities, Stephens said.

Manufacturers package vaccines in temperature-controlled packaging that’s designed to last until a package reaches its destination. Cold storage would be called on if a package was delayed in transit.

“I am proud to report we are running incredibly smoothly. Everybody knock on wood,” Stephens said.

Some details about the first day Moderna shipment were not available from FedEx or McKesson.

Stephens couldn’t talk about quantities and vaccine destinations for the same reason he couldn’t discuss security precautions: “For the safety and security of the overall mission.”

He couldn’t say what percentage of FedEx’s 185 outbound flights Sunday afternoon would carry Moderna vaccine, but said it was a lot.

However, Stephens said, “I don’t think those details are as important as the fact that the program has launched, we’re into wave 2 with the second vaccine just being released this weekend, and we’re highly confident in our ability to continue to help support all of the efforts around ending this horrible pandemic.”

Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has said about 20 million doses would be delivered to the U.S. government by the end of December. Moderna plans to have 100 million to 125 million doses available globally in the first quarter of 2021, with 85 million-100 million in the U.S.

U.S. distribution is being split between FedEx and UPS.

Once Moderna supplies the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decides where it will be distributed based on allocations to states.

The boxes travel by FedEx Priority Overnight service, guaranteed for delivery before 10:30 a.m. the next day, with FedEx’s proprietary advanced tracking and monitoring technology embedded in each box.

Stephens said the vaccine passing through the hub Sunday was scheduled for early morning delivery Monday.

<strong>Don Colleran</strong>

Don Colleran

Moderna vaccine can be stored up to 30 days at 2-8 degrees Celsius (36-46 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature of a standard refrigerator; up to six months at -20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit); and at room temperature up to 12 hours.

After arrival at the Memphis FedEx hub, vaccine shipments were sorted into smaller shipments that left the hub on planes and trucks, headed for hospitals, pharmacies and other administration sites around the country.

Vaccine distribution follows a months-long airlift of COVID-19 relief supplies and equipment through the Memphis hub and FedEx network, including test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment.

COVID-19 vaccine moves through FedEx Memphis hub

“The FedEx team and network are uniquely positioned to deliver on this mission in the U.S. and around the world,” said Don Colleran, president and chief executive officer of FedEx Express.

“The transportation of vaccines continues our ongoing work since the beginning of the pandemic to keep critical supply chains operating, meet the increased demands for residential delivery and deliver more than 9,600 humanitarian aid shipments around the globe,” Colleran said.


FedEx FedEx Express Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Operation Warp Speed UPS
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 43-year veteran of print journalism, 35-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.


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