Airlines Begin Delivering Vaccine Pending Approval; UK May Greenlight Shots Soon

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The campaign to get a coronavirus vaccine distributed around the nation and the world has begun with both American and United Airlines flights landing in South America as part of a test run late last week.

According to industry sources, the airlines are repositioning aircraft now in expectation that they will be used as part of the vital link in getting the desperately-needed vaccine out to as many individuals as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Although the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is currently awaiting approval, the airlines are taking advantage of this time of lessened travel demand to reassess where their aircraft are parked and attempting to put them where they will be most needed as soon as the vaccine gets the OK from regulators.

Last Friday, United Airlines aircraft were seen operating special charter flights in this effort, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.

American Airlines issued a statement last Friday saying that it will also serve as a courier for the precious vaccines, and that its aircraft had completed a trial run between Miami to South America while loaded with the special dry ice packaging that is necessary for the vaccines’ storage.

“We have established a network of team members that specialize in temperature-critical shipments, and work closely with the FAA on regulations governing shipments transported with dry ice. We have worked with the FAA to increase dry ice limits on our widebody cargo-only flights,” American said in its statement.

FAA “Supporting first mass shipment of a vaccine”

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement to The Hill that “As a result of the historic pace of vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed and careful logistics planning, the FAA today is supporting the first mass air shipment of a vaccine.”

The FAA added it is working alongside manufacturers, air carriers, and airport authorities to provide guidance on how to implementing existing regulatory requirements in order to safely transport large amounts of dry ice air cargo.

Due to the fact that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use RNA technology, they must be kept at below freezing temperatures, meaning special accommodations far beyond normal procedures must be made for both transport and storage.

The Hill reported on Friday that earlier this year, the vaccine rollout was being handled by United Cargo, which had established a Covid Readiness Task Team “to help ensure we have the right people, products, services, and partnerships in place to support a vaccine distribution effort on a global scale.”

Pfizer and its collaborator, the German firm BioNTech, were the first to announce that their coronavirus vaccine had passed the testing phases, with an average of 90% effectiveness, and it was placed before the US Food and Drug Administration for approval on November 16. It was announced over the weekend that there was an FDA meeting called for December 10th to discuss the vaccine.

One of three global firms to announce that their vaccines had an at least 90% efficacy rate, Pfizer’s product may be ready to be used in less than two weeks from now. It has been tested on 44,000 individuals all over the world in trials.

UK says “Possible rollout before Christmas”

UK officials have stated that its public health officials may give the green light to the Pfizer vaccine, according to a report from the Tribune news content agency.  Citing officials who wanted to remain anonymous, the report stated that “British doctors were put on standby for a possible rollout before Christmas.”

The UK government said that it had invoked a special rule allowing its public health regulators to bypass its EU counterpart since the nation nears its final legal break with the European Union.

Additionally, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has begun its  own review of the Pfizer vaccine. The NHRA has already stated that it has all the data it needs for an assessment on whether or not he Pfizer vaccine meets is standards and that it would “make a decision in the shortest time possible, without compromising the thoroughness of our review.”

London’s Financial Times said in a report that the first shots could be given as early as December 7.

The UK has ordered enough of the Pfizer/BioNTech product to immunize a total of 20 million people — although that amount will not be available right away due to the companies’ fulfillment of their other obligations to other nations. Pfizer and BioNTech also have contracts to supply hundreds of millions of vaccine doses all across the world.