Story at a glance

  • Initial doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine touched down in Chicago on Friday.
  • The vaccine has yet to receive emergency use clearance by the U.S. FDA.

The initial “mass air shipments” of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine touched down in Chicago on Friday, supported by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Sources close to the matter told CNBC that United Airlines shipped the vaccine from Brussels to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport ahead of a larger distribution partnership between pharmaceutical and airlines companies.

On Nov. 9, Pfizer announced that its vaccine candidate displayed a 90 percent efficacy rate in phase 3 human trials, meaning it prompted an immune response to prevent COVID-19 in 90 percent of the study participants. 


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The vaccine has yet to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but is in the application process for its Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for critically ill patients.  

CNBC reports that Pfizer previously stated it will not ship out vaccine doses prior to FDA emergency approval. The company declined to comment on Friday’s shipment. An oversight body within the FDA, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, is slated to discuss its pending approval on Dec. 10. 

Pfizer’s vaccine will need to be shipped in cold temperatures, with recommended storage conditions below minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. The FAA reportedly helped launch an infrastructure to help ship vaccine doses out in these conditions.

“Several vaccines need continued cold temperatures during transport, which, in some circumstances, require dry ice, a hazardous material,” the FAA said in a statement. “The FAA is working with manufacturers, air carriers, and airport authorities to provide guidance on implementing current regulatory requirements for safely transporting large quantities of dry ice in air cargo.”

This follows Pfizer’s initiative to test launch its vaccines across four U.S. states to gauge how efficiently the doses can travel. The states are Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico and Tennessee.

Distribution of the initial doses of the vaccine will be determined by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Experts anticipate higher-risk individuals, including frontline workers and elderly people, will receive the first doses.


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Published on Nov 30, 2020