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Dec 11, 2020
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Truckers at the Heart of Distributing the COVID Vaccine 

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As the Pfizer vaccine and others arrive, truckers will assume responsibility for distributing the COVID 19 vaccines. Warp speed distribution is already planned as 293,000 people have lost their lives from the virus (at the time of posting). The Department of Transportation will more than likely extend the Hours of Service exemption to directly assist truckers. They want to move the vaccine throughout the population as quickly as possible. 

Working with Many Agencies

The Department of Transportation spoke about how since the virus first picked up back in March 2020, they have coordinated their efforts with other federal agencies, aviation stakeholders, and air carriers to ensure that critical medical supplies and personnel arrive at the right place and time. 

The Department of Transportation has spoken with private sectors to design a plan to distribute the vaccines. Truckers will serve in one of the most quintessential roles for distributing the vaccines as they bring them to the public. 

Implementing Safety Measures

Despite their best efforts to roll out the vaccines as quickly as possible, the Department of Transportation emphasized how they have not thrown all caution to the wind. The appropriate safety measures ensure that the potential hazards with shipping the vaccines will be appropriately mitigated. This includes standards for lithium batteries and dry ice. 

HOS extensions are designed to increase a driver’s capacity to deliver the vaccines in time for emergency assistance. The military will coordinate with the vaccines’ distribution, but they will not administer the vaccines to the population. 

The Details of the Logistics

The best logistical experts in the US have taken on the task of planning transportation. They have planned to distribute the supplies like the needles, the bandages, the syringes, the swabs, and the dry ice. At all points, a 24-hour operations team will track the exact location of each of the deliveries. Let’s say that the vaccines run the risk of expiring. The team will redirect the vaccines to a closer site to immediately get distributed for use. 

Vaccine Transport Will Require More Than Reefer Trailers

The Pfizer vaccines will require that truckers use more than reefer trailers. Transport of the vaccines will require reefer trucks to meet individual specifications far beyond even the simple transportation of refrigerated goods. While many trailers can get down to subzero temperatures, the vaccines’ storage will require extremely cold temps. No trailer can transport at the required temperatures, which means that the vaccines will use special containers. Packages of dry ice will keep the temperatures cold. 

Compared to the Shipment of Ice Cream

Many people don’t even realize how many thousands of dollars are invested in a single ice cream shipment.

Truckers have a great responsibility even when shipping ice cream to ensure that the product arrives unmelted and unspoiled. That matters because one wrong move could easily lead to the loss of the entire shipment. Usually, the trailers used to ship ice cream sit at well below freezing temperatures. 

Companies Responsible for Moving the Vaccines

The companies that will distribute the vaccines include FedEx and UPS. They have called on them as the vaccines’ distributors because each of these companies has an excellent supply chain. This hands them the means to transport the extra cold cargo. FedEx has said that it plans to use its Express segment with refrigerated trailers, warehousing, temperature-controlled containers, and thermal blankets to move the supplies. Across North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia, FedEx has over 90 cold chain facilities supporting this effort. 

Truck Drivers First to Receive COVID Vaccines?

Few have as much importance as the trucking industry. 100% of communities across the United States depend on truckers. Truck drivers will serve in one of the essential roles as they roll out the vaccines to millions of people across the United States. Truckers also face many risks because they drive from one region of the United States to the next, sometimes driving in hot zones. It increases their risk of exposure. They plan to first roll out the vaccines to people with the highest risk and serve in essential roles like truck drivers, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Giving truckers the vaccines will minimize the risk that the supply chain suffers disruptions. 

Plans for the Virus

In 2020, Pfizer plans to manufacture 50 million doses. In 2021, the number of doses will leap to 1.3 billion doses. They found that the vaccines had a 90 percent effectiveness in treating COVID 19 over placebos. In the beginning, we can expect the distribution to feel restricted. They will target essential professions during the pandemic, serving at the front line, such as trucking and healthcare. 

COVID Vaccines: The Great Balancing Act

Pfizer has to do more than distribute its vaccines for success. They will need to maintain an ongoing steady supply of raw materials with plenty of space in manufacturing facilities. Right now, Pfizer says that they don’t anticipate supply problems. During a pandemic, disruption of supplies could always happen, but they don’t expect it. 

What Challenges Will the Supply Chain Have with Distribution?

The COVID vaccine distribution will mark the most complex logistical challenge since the country mobilized for WWII. An estimated 60 percent of Americans claim that they will take the vaccine. Transport will have its challenges because it hits during one of the most challenging seasons: winter. The snow and icy driving conditions could delay the delivery in some parts of the country. Getting the COVID vaccines will require that people receive their vaccinations two times at three-week intervals. That puts a strain on it because it doubles the amount needed from seven billion to 14 billion.

In combination with double the need, some supply chain challenges do exist. For example, the distribution of the vaccine could lead to supply chain problems elsewhere with everyday household goods. Some trucking companies have lost tons of money in 2020. If a high-paying shipment of vaccines could be taken to make up for the losses, these companies may attempt to take this on.

Understanding the True Role of Truckers

During the distribution, the USA will need as many truckers to fulfill the demand as possible. Keeping as many available to distribute the vaccines as possible will ensure that it gets rolled out quickly. The American economy hinges on this effort going smoothly. 

With the expansion of the HOS for truckers, some trucking safety groups have expressed concern that this could lead to an alarming rise in accidents. They claim that they want safety for all as much as possible while distributing the vaccines. The challenge is that we have an emergency where safety matters, but getting the vaccines out quickly could save more lives.

Balancing efficiency and safety will be the determining factor in the vaccine distribution timeline. 

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