WSJ US BusinessPfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccines Are Prepped for Shipment

December 12, 20200
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Pfizer will begin shipping out its newly authorized Covid-19 vaccine from plants in Michigan and Wisconsin on Sunday.

Photo: john maniaci/uw health/Reuters

Pfizer Inc. PFE -1.46% is packing boxes with thousands of its Covid-19 vaccines for shipment around the U.S., as hospitals gear up to give shots while also confronting the surging pandemic.

Trucks carrying the fragile cargo at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit will start rolling out of Pfizer plants in Michigan and Wisconsin on Sunday. Doses are scheduled to start arriving at hospitals on Monday.

Health-care workers treating Covid-19 patients, nursing-home residents and perhaps others could start getting inoculated soon thereafter, though it might take a day or two for facilities to train staff and begin injections.

The rest of the population will have to wait, as the drugmakers produce and ship more of the doses.

Distribution Plan

Public health authorities have started setting priorities for who should get the Covid-19 vaccine first. Based on targets for distribution, here’s a potential scenario for how doses could be distributed for Pfizer’s vaccine and for Moderna’s, which is next up for approval.

distribution target 20 million people

FIRST TO GET THE VACCINE

Health-care personnel

21 million (U.S. population)

Long-term care facility residents

3 million

Each figure = 1 million people

distribution target 30 million people

SECOND-highest priority

Essential workers

(non-health care)

87 million

february–march

distribution target

at least 50 million people

beyond march

third highest

100 million

Adults with high-risk medical conditions

53 million

Adults age 65+ years

After the fastest development of a vaccine ever recorded, distribution of the shots kicks off an equally formidable challenge: a monthslong inoculation campaign not seen since efforts to eradicate the polio virus.

“People should not forget how extraordinary it is that we are even talking about having a vaccine by mid-December at all. In January, I don’t think anybody thought this was feasible,” said Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education at the Immunization Action Coalition.

Initial supplies will be limited. Pfizer projects it will deliver 25 million doses to the U.S. this year, including 2.9 million doses the first week. Inoculation requires two doses three weeks apart, so only half that many people will be vaccinated. States will decide where many doses go.

Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine effort, said Saturday the initial supplies will be distributed among 636 locations nationwide, with 145 sites expected to get the doses Monday.

Another 425 sites should receive deliveries Tuesday, while the remaining 66 sites are slated to get their supplies Wednesday, Gen. Perna said.

Hospitals slated to get shipments have been weighing difficult decisions about which employees should get vaccinated first. The hospitals have also been figuring how to give inoculated staff time off to deal with any side effects.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services, the largest health system in New Mexico, braced for vaccinating employees at the same time it is being stretched due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The health system expects an initial shipment of 4,000 doses next week and would start vaccinating within a day of receiving them, according to Jeff Salvon-Harman, Presbyterian’s chief patient safety officer.

Dr. Salvon-Harmon said he was amazed at how fast the vaccine had been developed, but the timing was a double-edged sword in New Mexico.

“On the one hand, the risk is greatest right now to our caregivers and everyone who works here because there is so much Covid in our facilities,” he said. “But the timing couldn’t be worse in terms of competing priorities for manpower.”

The new coronavirus has infected more than 15.8 million people in the U.S., killing 295,500 while separating families, remaking work and battering the economy. Cases have been increasing in recent weeks.

For months, health authorities have waited for the arrival of vaccines that could protect against Covid-19 and permit people to gather in groups and schools, businesses and other establishments to fully reopen.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE BNTX -1.73% on Friday, after a 44,000-person trial found the shot to be 95% effective and generally well-tolerated.

The vaccine must be stored at ultracold temperatures because it uses a new gene-based technology.

As states and hospitals in the U.S. race to roll out the first Covid-19 vaccines, WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez hears from a hospital administrator and immunization expert about the logistical challenges involved in this first phase of the vaccination process. Photo: Victoria Jones/Zuma Press

Partly for that reason, and partly for speed, the company created its own container to ship the doses while keeping them cold and secure. The company also set up its own distribution network, skipping traditional drug wholesalers in favor of logistics companies like United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp.

The U.S. government is dividing up the supply among states, territories and jurisdictions based on their adult populations.

First in line will largely be the nation’s 21 million health-care workers such as doctors and nurses treating Covid-19 patients, as well as residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

How should distribution of the vaccine be prioritized? Join the conversation below.

CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. pharmacies will deliver and administer most vaccine doses at the 15,600 nursing homes and 29,000 assisted-living communities in the U.S.

Nine sites in Los Angeles County are expecting to get a total of approximately 83,000 doses and will start distributing the vaccine to 83 hospitals, which will then get them to front-line health-care workers as quickly as possible, said Paul Simon, the county health department’s chief science officer.

The workers are being prioritized, he said, based on their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

To make sure they return several weeks later for their second dose, the department and hospital officials have arranged for the newly vaccinated to get yellow cards noting the type of vaccine they got, the date they received it and when they need to come back.

In addition, Dr. Simon said, a data system is set to store the information and can remind people via text and email when they are due for the second dose.

The FDA granted emergency-use authorization of the first Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S., setting the stage for administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots to begin within a day or two. WSJ’s Peter Loftus explains how the vaccine will be rolled out. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/AP

“Even with that, it’s going to be a complicated process,” he said.

In Colorado, 20 members of the National Guard were set to be deployed Sunday to seven sites in more rural parts of the state. Those sites have been set up to store some of the first 46,800 Pfizer doses being shipped to Colorado at the necessary ultracold temperature.

Brig. Gene. Scott Sherman said the Guard members had been trained to help to break down the bulk shipments of the doses into smaller batches, place them in ultracold storage containers and get them out to rural hospitals.

The Colorado National Guard was also coordinating with mail couriers to get the vaccines out to these facilities, and in some cases were readying to transport the doses themselves.

In addition, some 15 hospitals, most located in more populated areas of the state like the Denver metro area, were preparing to get shipments of the Pfizer vaccine directly.

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to the federal government’s coronavirus-response program, has said immunization of 70% of the population would generate the herd immunity needed to protect even the unvaccinated, given the approximately 95% effectiveness of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Covid-19 Vaccines

Write to Jared S. Hopkins at jared.hopkins@wsj.com and Dan Frosch at dan.frosch@wsj.com

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