Airlines Gear Up to Transport Vaccines That Could Revive Travel

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The Road to a Coronavirus VaccineHow Pfizer’s Vaccine Works11 Things to KnowWho Should Get it First?Vaccine TrackerUnited Airlines’ cargo facility at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. The airline industry will play a vital role in moving millions of vaccine doses, putting underused planes and crews idled by the pandemic to work.Credit…Sebastian Hidalgo for The New York Times

Airlines Gear Up to Transport Vaccines That Could Revive Travel

Planes are one part of an elaborate supply chain to move billions of doses of vaccines around the world.

United Airlines’ cargo facility at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. The airline industry will play a vital role in moving millions of vaccine doses, putting underused planes and crews idled by the pandemic to work.Credit…Sebastian Hidalgo for The New York Times

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Dec. 10, 2020

Months before anyone knew which of the coronavirus vaccine candidates would pull ahead or when they’d be available, airlines were trying to figure out how to transport doses around the world.

Over the summer, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines spoke with government officials, pharmaceutical companies and experts to understand where vaccines might be produced, how they would be shipped and how best to position people and planes to get them moving. More recently, they have flown batches of vaccines for use in trials and research or to prepare for wider distribution.

The industry will play a vital role in moving billions of doses aboard hundreds of flights in the months ahead, putting underused planes and crews to work while circulating the very medicine that airlines hope will get people to book tickets again. But the flights are just one segment of a global relay race in which airlines will have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.

“When a request comes in, it’s going to be urgent and we have to act immediately,” said Manu Jacobs, who oversees shipments of pharmaceuticals and other specialty products for United.

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An expert panel of the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday recommended granting emergency authorization of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Another vaccine, produced by Moderna, is expected to secure approval soon. Once the agency authorizes the vaccines, shipments are expected to begin in earnest.

One of the biggest challenges for airlines has been ensuring that vaccines are transported at frigid temperatures. Pfizer’s must be stored at an incredibly low minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s can be kept at a more

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