The first COVID-19 vaccines shipped out Sunday morning thanks to truck drivers

A crowd of onlookers cheered as the rigs left the facility.

The nation’s first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine were loaded onto semi trucks and shipped out early Sunday morning. 

On December 13th at around 8:25 a.m. three FedEx, UPS, and Boyle Transportation trucks pulled out of the parking lot of the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan to cheering crowds of local residents. Each rig was accompanied by an unmarked car.

The 1.95 million doses are expected to arrive in all 50 states early Monday. 84,825 of these doses will be staying in Michigan. 

Each vial of the vaccine contains five doses, and 975 vials fit in each insulated box. 400 insulated boxes were loaded onto each truck. 

Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, so shipping it out is a challenge. However, the vaccine can be kept safely at 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 24 hours or at room temperature for no more than two hours after it thaws. 

Because of these extreme temperature requirements, hospitals, public health agencies, and Pfizer itself have had to invest in ultra-cold deep freezers and get creative with their shipping process, which involves temperature-controlled thermal shippers that use dry ice to maintain ultra-cold temperatures for as many as 10 days, as long as it is unopened. 

“We will utilize GPS-enabled thermal sensors with a control tower that will track the location and temperature of each vaccine shipment across their pre-set routes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” the company said in a fact sheet about vaccine distribution.

The company is expected to ship out as many as 33.6 million doses before the end of the year. Because the vaccine requires two doses administered 21 days apart, this means as many as 20 million Americans could receive both rounds of vaccines before 2021. 

Health care workers remain as the highest priority for the vaccination effort, followed by employees and residents of long-term care facilities, followed by other essential workers and other high-risk groups. 

“I thought this was a chance to see history in the making,” said Denny LaPoint, a 74-year-old local who was waiting outside of the plant as the semi trucks were loaded up and headed out. 

“It’s history, and it’s hope,” added Joyce Hutcheson, 76, to Detroit Free Press.

“Friday night, when the FDA said it was approved, this is going to sound a little weird, but I got a tear in my eye. It gave me chills. We live this close. I mean, I had to come down here and see history. I am putting together a little scrapbook of everything that’s happened since March, you know with the protests, the election, this. There’s just a lot of history happening in 2020, and I’m going to pass that book on to my nieces and nephews,” said Nancy Galloway, 63.