Logistical challenges remain as shipments of the vaccine begin in the US.
Shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were sent distribution points across the United States on Sunday, with injections set to begin in the most pivotal moment since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Cruise operators Carnival Corp and Royal Caribbean Cruises rose 4.7% and 3.1%, respectively, in premarket trade, while stocks of major airline operators rose between 1.5% and 3.0%, with American Airlines Group leading gains.
The travel and leisure industries were among the worst hit by restrictions on movement due to the pandemic and unsurprisingly are reacting positively to any vaccine-related news.
Elsewhere, Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc surged 31.3% and was set to hit a 4-1/2 year high after drugmaker AstraZeneca said it would buy the U.S. biotech firm for $39 billion in one of this year’s biggest mergers. AstraZeneca’s U.S.-listed shares fell 5.8%.
Shares of delivery firms FedEx Corp and United Parcel Service Inc, which are leading the vaccine distribution project, rose about 1.7% and 1.9%, respectively.
U.S. stocks had already rallied over the past few weeks with the S&P 500 touching a series of record highs as markets bet on the quick approval and roll-out of a vaccine.
Nevertheless, uncertainty over more fiscal stimulus had hindered gains. Last week the Senate approved a one-week extension of federal funding to avoid a government shutdown and to provide more time for negotiations on coronavirus relief.
The U.S. government is prepping millions of doses of Pfizer–BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for shipment to sites across the nation in support of what may be the most ambitious immunization program in history.
FedEx and the United Parcel Service will play crucial roles in distributing the vaccine, which is fragile and requires special treatment. Shipments will get priority access at airports. If a plane with vaccines is coming in for landing, other passenger planes will have to circle and wait their turn.
Unlike the other vaccine candidates, Pfizer’s is especially difficult to store and ship as it needs to be kept incredibly cold, as in minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, in a sealed box, with dry ice.
That suitcase-sized box, something they call a “thermal shipper,” contains anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 doses. These custom thermal shippers act as mobile freezers for clinics that don’t have the necessary specialty equipment.
FedEx and UPS have been enlisted to transport the thermal shippers from Pfizer storage sites in Michigan and Wisconsin to 64 states, territories, and major cities across the nation.
Both companies have spent years building up their health-care logistics businesses, so they already have systems in place to allow for special handling of fragile medical products. Furthermore, the two companies have collectively hired 170,000 additional employees to keep pace with demand. They said the vaccines would get the highest priority of all of their deliveries.
Both UPS and FedEx will use high-tech tracking devices to monitor packages carrying the vaccine, both to ensure speed of delivery and the safety of the product itself. These built-in systems will detect motion, light exposure, as well as temperature and GPS.
Local governments concerned
There are still a range of obstacles ahead, however. States and cities say they are worried about what happens when the vaccine arrives on their doorstep.
While the government has spent about $10 billion to develop the vaccine, so far, states have only received $200 million from the CDC for distribution purposes. Another $140 million is expected to be distributed in mid December.
Nevertheless, CDC director Robert Redfield told a Senate panel in September that, “it’s going to take somewhere between $5.5 [billion] to $6 billion to distribute this vaccine. It’s as urgent as getting these manufacturing facilities up.”
State health officials have asked for even more than that. They are requesting at least $8.4 billion for Covid-19 vaccination distribution.
Distribution comes as state and local governments are more strapped for cash than ever, amid increased expenses due to the pandemic and lost tax revenue.
The vaccine is here. But the hard work is just beginning.