U.S. says ready for immediate domestic shipment of COVID-19 vaccines


A small shopping basket filled with vials labeled "COVID-19 - Coronavirus Vaccine" is placed on a U.S. flag in this illustration taken November 29, 2020. Picture taken November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Ilustration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department said Tuesday it has made preparations to enable the "immediate mass shipment" of COVID-19 vaccines and completed all necessary regulatory measures.

The department said U.S. agencies have been coordinating with private sector companies that will carry vaccines from manufacturing facilities to distribution centers and inoculation points.

It added it has established "appropriate safety requirements for all potential hazards involved in shipping the vaccine, including standards for dry ice and lithium batteries used in cooling."

The department is preparing to ensure deliveries of vaccine doses for about 40 million U.S. residents through January, or about 20 million a month, officials told Reuters.

Healthcare workers and others recommended for the first inoculations could start getting shots within 24 hours after the vaccine receives regulatory authorization, the chief adviser for the U.S. government's Operation Warp Speed program said on Tuesday.

Pfizer Inc has applied for an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine.

Officials ran a drill last month simulating shipments of vaccine to ensure that all regulatory approvals were in place to allow for immediate deliveries to begin in the coming weeks.

"The department has laid the groundwork for the safe transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine and is proud to support this historic endeavor,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.

The department has issued emergency regulatory relief for flight crews to support uninterrupted flight operations and respond to increased cargo demand.

Last week, Reuters reported United Airlines had begun moving shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, on charter flights to ensure it can be quickly distributed once it is approved, according to a person familiar with the matter.

American Airlines in November began trial

flights from Miami to South America to prepare for its role in transporting COVID-19 vaccines, the carrier said Monday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Kim Coghill)

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