Inside Delta’s Plan To Ship The COVID-19 Vaccine All Over The US

Delta Air Lines is gearing up to help ship a COVID-19 vaccine around the United States and the world. After successful shipments earlier this year, the Atlanta-based airline says it has proven capabilities to quickly and correctly distribute a vaccine.

Delta Air Lines says it is ready and willing to help ship the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Delta Air Lines

“Effective and rapid distribution of the vaccines as they reach final approvals is one of the most critical elements in containing the virus,” said Rob Walpole, Vice President at Delta Cargo.

Delta Air Lines has its own warehouses and cooler facilities in Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, and Seattle. The airline also has access to what it calls a network of 49 certified “Pharma airports” worldwide.

Designated pharma airports not only have the infrastructure in place to correctly store vaccines and other medicines, those airports serve as efficient transshipment centers and provide easy access to local markets.

“After successfully shipping test vaccines throughout the summer and fall, we are confident in our capability and stand ready to help ensure approved vaccines are broadly distributed,” says Mr Walpole.

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Delta beefs up its pharmaceutical shipping services

There are expectations the Food and Drug Administration will greenlight Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines’ emergency use sometime this month. When that occurs, the race will be on to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible.

Delta Air Lines says it has pre-existing “tailored” shipping solutions for vaccines and other medicines. But expecting a surge in demand for pharma charter flights, Delta is beefing up its shipping offerings to attract business. According to Delta, the “enhancements” include the highest level of access and boarding priority. There is also a vaccine control tower with 24/7 centralized monitoring and customer reporting, and pharma-ready cargo-only charter options for operations within and outside Delta’s existing network.

“We created a vaccine task force months ago charged with understanding requirements and working with healthcare and pharmaceutical experts, building scalable solutions to support the industry,” says Rob Walpole.

It’s not just destinations in the United States Delta can fly the vaccine to. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Other US airlines also ready and willing to fly vaccine

It’s not only Delta Air Lines that is preparing to help ship the COVID-19 vaccine around the United States and elsewhere. Two months ago, Simple Flying reported on various airlines and industry groups gearing up to help ship the vaccine when it was ready to go.

“Even if we assume that half the needed vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever,” said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac at the time.

The IATA boss said the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 freighters would be needed to get the vaccine out quickly. That looks like a stretch, given so much of the aviation industry is in hibernation.

Other US carriers, including American Airlines, are also gearing up to help ship the vaccine. Photo: American Airlines

The quicker the vaccine gets out, the quicker people can fly again

United Airlines has already operated some flights to position Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine doses in anticipation of regulatory approval. Late last month, a United Airlines spokesperson told Simple Flying the airline had established a COVID Readiness Task Team. The spokesperson said United had the right people, products, services, and partnerships in place to get the COVID-19 vaccine out.

Not to be outdone, competitor American Airlines is conducting trial COVID-19 distribution flights. In late November, a Boeing 777-200 departed Miami for South America. That flight also simulated a COVID-19 distribution flight and tested protocols.

Pending approval from regulatory bodies, the COVID-19 vaccine now appears set to go out as fast as the airlines can take-off. It’s great to see the airlines working in the national interest. But it’s also the breakthrough the airlines need too. The quicker the vaccine gets out, the quicker people get vaccinated. That will see travel restrictions will come tumbling down, and people will get moving again. That will prove a welcome relief to airlines everywhere.