U.S. DOT announces plans for ‘swift’ mass shipment of COVID-19 vaccine

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) announced that the agency has taken several steps — including partnerships with private sector companies — in order to provide rapid deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine.

On December 1, U.S. DOT issued a statement outlining several steps to ensure the “safe, rapid transportation of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine by land and air.”

Significantly, U.S. DOT says that they have already entered into partnerships with several private sector companies who will be transport vaccines when they are approved by health officials:

Over the last several weeks Department of Transportation agencies and Operation Warp Speed officials have been coordinating with the private sector companies that will carry the vaccines from manufacturing facilities to the distribution centers and inoculation points. The Department has established the appropriate safety requirements for all potential hazards involved in shipping the vaccine, including standards for dry ice and lithium batteries.   

U.S. DOT also pointed to the FMCSA’s ongoing regulatory relief for truck drivers who are hauling COVID-19 relief supplies, including vaccines:

Additionally, the Department has continued to support critical supply chain networks by granting a nationwide exemption to hours-of-service regulations for trucking companies and commercial drivers providing direct emergency assistance.  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s long-standing Emergency Declaration was also recently extended to support emergency transportation of vaccines and medical supplies and equipment related to the prevention of COVID-19. 

The most recent COVID-19 emergency waiver was issued on September 11 and is valid through December 31, 2020. This waiver provides relief from Hours of Service regulations for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19. This latest waiver applies to drivers who are hauling:

  1. Livestock and livestock feed
  2. Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19
  3. Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants
  4. Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores. 

U.S. DOT also announced partnerships with various government agencies, air carriers, and aviation stakeholders who will also be tasked with vaccine distribution.

“The Department has laid the groundwork for the safe transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine and is proud to support this historic endeavor,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.