U.S. distribution of the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine will begin on Dec. 14, according to officials with Operation Warp Speed.
UPS and FedEx are helping ship the vaccine, which was created by U.S.-based Pfizer and Germany-based BioNTech.
Pfizer, McKesson, and federal and local law enforcement agencies are working with officials from the Trump administration to ensure the safety and security of the vaccine.
“Make no mistake—distribution has begun,” Gen. Gus Perna, the chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, told a press conference in Washington.
“Right now, boxes are being packed and loaded with vaccine, with emphasis on quality control. Within the next 24 hours, they will begin moving vaccine from the Pfizer manufacturing facility to the UPS and FedEx hubs, and then it will go out to the 636 locations nationwide, which were identified by the states and territories.”
The vaccine needs to be stored at all times at around -94 degrees F (-70 degrees C) to ensure its effectiveness.
Officials expect 145 sites across the United States to receive the vaccine on Dec. 14, another 425 sites to get doses on Dec. 15, and the remaining 66 sites to receive the vaccine by Dec. 16. If all goes as planned, that will complete the initial delivery of 2.9 million doses, which will be followed in 21 days with a second round of injections.
Operation Warp Speed is an effort by President Donald Trump’s administration that was focused on speeding the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.
The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10.
Officials are poised to authorize a second vaccine, from U.S.-based Moderna, next week.
No vaccine doses were pre-positioned because officials didn’t want to presume the vaccine would be authorized, Perna told reporters. The timeline remains on track to distribute and administer 40 million doses by the end of the month.
A government advisory board recommended the first doses go to front-line health care workers and long term care facility residents. Ultimately, governors get to decide where the doses are distributed and administered.
Manufacturing of the vaccine started in the summer, even as clinical trials were still being conducted.
Perna compared the first day of distribution to D-Day, the Allied landing in France during World War II.
“D-Day was the beginning of the end. And that’s where we are today,” he said. “But make no mistake, it was not the end, months and months of hard-fought battles occurred. And it took diligence, courage, and strength to eventually achieve victory. But victory did come.”