Distribution of Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine to more than 3,700 locations in the United States has begun, vastly widening the rollout started last week by Pfizer Inc, U.S Army General Gustave Perna said on Saturday.
Moderna has already moved vaccines from its manufacturing plants to warehouses operated by distributor McKesson Corp where they are being packed into containers and loaded on to trucks on Saturday, Perna said during a news conference. Trucks will set out on Sunday and shipments will start reaching healthcare providers as soon as Monday, he said.
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved an emergency use authorization for Moderna’s vaccine, the second COVID-19 vaccine to be approved. The jab developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE was approved Dec. 11.
Workers in pharmaceutical services provider Catalent Inc’s facility in Bloomington, Indiana, are filling and packaging vials with Moderna vaccine and handing them to McKesson, which will ship doses from facilities including Louisville, Kentucky and Memphis, Tennessee. Those locations are close to air hubs for United Parcel Service Inc and FedEx Corp.
The start of delivery for the Moderna vaccine will significantly widen availability of COVID-19 vaccines as U.S. deaths related to the respiratory virus set records.
“This is now a footrace between the vaccine and COVID,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday at a briefing on the virus. He said New York expects to receive 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week. Those will go to 292 medical facilities across the state.
Pfizer organized its own distribution system but the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed, led by an Army general, is in charge for Moderna. The Moderna delivery system will have some of the same players as Pfizer’s but will differ in key ways.
Transportation companies UPS and FedEx are giving priority to vaccines on planes and trucks that are moving holiday gifts and other cargo. Their drivers will handle the bulk of the last-mile Moderna vaccine deliveries. They are going directly to vaccination sites, unlike Pfizer’s which was sent to large hubs and redistributed.
Moderna’s vaccine is available in quantities as small as 100 doses and can be stored for 30 days in standard-temperature refrigerators, while the inoculations from Pfizer come in boxes of 975 doses, must be shipped and stored at -70 Celsius (-94 F), and can be held for only 5 days at standard refrigerator temperatures.
Texas and Arkansas officials told Reuters they expect Moderna to be the primary vaccine for rural areas, which often lack the ultra cold storage equipment to store full trays of Pfizer’s vials. Once the plastic on a Pfizer 975-dose tray is opened, recipients have 120 hours to use the vaccine.
Initial doses were given to health professionals. Programs by pharmacies Walgreens and CVS to distribute the Pfizer vaccine to long-term care facilities are expected to start on Monday, said Gareth Rhodes, a member of Cuomo’s COVID-19 task force. And a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel on Sunday will consider what groups should get vaccinated next.
“The logistics will be easier with the Moderna vaccine,” said Jesse Breidenbach, senior executive director of pharmacy for Sanford Health, which operates almost four dozen hospitals in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
“Thirty days in the refrigerator will make it a bit easier to deal with,” Breidenbach said.
Still, doses of vaccine must travel with security guards, including U.S. Marshals, and will be stored in locked refrigerators.
Perna said the United States is on track to have enough doses available of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines by the end of the year to inoculate 20 million people, but deliveries of those doses may continue into first week of January.
Both vaccines were about 95% effective at preventing illness in clinical trials that found no serious safety issues.
Separately, U.S. officials said Pfizer is preparing to distribute 2 million additional doses of its vaccine to locations around the country next week, with preparations for shipping beginning over the weekend.