US gears up for massive vaccination drive after Moderna’s approval

By Beatriz Pascual Macías

Washington, Dec 19 (efe-epa).- With the help of the United States armed forces, logistics personnel were on Saturday filling thousands of cold-storage boxes with the Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, a day before they were set to distribute them to over 3,700 places across the country.

The first of these vaccines are set to be administered from Monday.

“Boxes are being packed and loaded today,” said US Army General Gus Perna, head of the Operation Warp Speed, launched by the White House with the help of the Pentagon to speed up the vaccination drive.

Perna held a press conference on Saturday to inform about the campaign’s progress.

The Moderna vaccine had received the Food and Drug Administration approval on Friday night, while the national medicine regulator had already approved the vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer/BioNTech on Dec. 11.

Moderna, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has already shipped the vaccines from its manufacturing plants to the warehouses of US firm McKesson, specializing in medicine distribution, which will be in charge of shipping the vaccine.

Perna said workers at the McKesson facilities were packing the vaccines in refrigerated boxes as he spoke.

On Sunday the boxes, which contain 100 doses each, will start being transported by land and air routes to more than 3,700 points across the country, with the help of delivery firms FedEx and UPS.

The vaccines will be rolled out from McKesson facilities including those in Louisville, Kentucky and Memphis, Tennessee, the closest to FedEX and UPS air distribution centers, with air transport being the preferred medium for shipping the serums in the fastest possible manner.

Health centers such as hospitals and pharmacies have been given priority in receiving the first doses.

The operation is much bigger than that carried out to distribute the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was shipped to 636 locations and administered to around 2.9 million Americans over the past week.

Pharma giant Pfizer, known for manufacturing Viagra, had established its own system to distribute the vaccine to hospitals, but Moderna – until recently a small and emerging company – is being helped by the US government within the framework of Operation Warp Speed.

The difference in the number of distribution points (636 compared to 3,700) is due to the different storage requirements of the two vaccines.

The Moderna serum will be transported in small boxes that should maintain a temperature lower than -20 degrees celsius, while the Pfizer vaccine has to be shipped in bigger trunks as it has to be covered by dry ice to keep the temperature between -60 and -80 degrees.

All the vaccine shipments are being accompanied by heavy security contingents, which include personnel from the US Marshal service, and have to be kept in locked cold storage.

If everything goes well, by the end of the year the 50 states of the US would have been delivered 20 million doses of the anti-coronavirus vaccines as initially promised, Perna said.

However, the general admitted that some of the shipments may not arrive until the first week of January.

Around 5.9 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and another 2 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are expected to be delivered across the country by next week in an important boost to the immunization campaign.

Both the vaccines have to be administered in two doses, with Moderna claiming a 94.1 percent efficiency and Pfizer announcing that its antidote was 95 percent effective.

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