UPS and FedEx say plans to ship the vaccine are underway.

UPS and FedEx say plans to ship the vaccine are underway.

UPS and FedEx say plans to ship the vaccine are underway.

UPS and FedEx say plans to ship the vaccine are underway.

“You have two fierce rivals here, and competitors, in FedEx and UPS, who literally are teaming up to get this delivered,” Richard Smith, a FedEx executive, told the Senate’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety on Thursday.

Both companies said the shipments would be closely tracked and monitored, and would be given priority over other packages. To ship its vaccine, Pfizer designed specialized containers packed with enough dry ice to keep a minimum of 975 doses cool for up to 10 days. Each comes with a tracking device.

Like UPS, FedEx said it would also affix its own tracking tags to vaccine shipments. Each UPS truck carrying the doses will have a device that tracks its location, temperature, light exposure and motion, Mr. Wheeler told the senators. The company’s trucks will have escorts, too, he said on Thursday. It is not clear whether he meant the local police or other government officials, or possibly private guards, and he declined to elaborate on that and other details in the interview, citing security concerns. But the trucks leaving Pfizer’s facility will be tracked “by the minute,” he said.

The vaccine administration kits were assembled by McKesson, a medical supplier that was asked by federal authorities to act as a centralized distributor of the vaccines and supplies, such as syringes and alcohol wipes. Unlike Pfizer, Moderna, whose vaccine could be approved soon, plans to have McKesson package its vaccines alongside the supplies, Mr. Smith said.

In the case of Pfizer, UPS plans to deliver the kits — from a McKesson site in Kentucky — in advance of the vaccine, allowing it to identify any errors with addresses in its system, Mr. Wheeler said Thursday. The kits contain a syringe, a substance used to dilute the vaccines, personal protective equipment, instructions and mixing vials, he said.

Shippers have spent months upgrading cold storage infrastructure for the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. UPS, for example, has been installing ultralow-temperature freezer farms that are able to keep goods as cold as minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit near its air cargo hubs in the United States and Europe. It also plans to produce more than 24,000 pounds of dry ice per day at its hub in Louisville. FedEx has added ultracold freezers throughout its U.S. network, too.

Airlines have also been preparing to transport the vaccines, working with plane manufacturers and the Federal Aviation Administration to safely carry more dry ice than is typically allowed. United Airlines said on Saturday that it transported batches of the vaccine from Brussels to Chicago aboard five cargo-only flights this month. (Pfizer is also making the vaccine at a plant in Puurs, Belgium.)

UPS is also sending the F.A.A. a daily file of its flights so it can help prioritize them over others, Mr. Wheeler said. The company is also in daily contact with officials involved in Operation Warp Speed.


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