FedEx is now shipping a third COVID-19 vaccine, adding to the millions of doses the Memphis logistics giant has delivered throughout the country.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccine from Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson company, on Saturday.
FedEx said in a news release Monday it has begun shipping the new vaccine, adding that it's "prepared to scale up to accommodate anticipated growth in vaccine volume throughout the spring and summer." The company has shipped tens of millions of doses since distribution began in mid-December.
“As vaccine production ramps up and more vaccines are approved, we expect to see a significant uptick in COVID-19 vaccine and supply kit volume moving through our network,” said Don Colleran, president and CEO for FedEx Express, in a statement. “As manufacturers obtain approval to ship COVID-19 vaccines with greater temperature ranges and varying dosing allotments, we anticipate more of these packages moving to more places through our global network.”
The J&J vaccine, the first one-shot vaccine authorized for U.S. use, joins two others: one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna. On FedEx’s end, distribution of the J&J vaccine will be handled like the Moderna vaccine.
Doses will be shipped to healthcare giant McKesson’s centralized distribution centers. Once the U.S. government makes a vaccine and supply kit order to McKesson, most shipments are carried by FedEx or UPS from those centers to the specified location in one to two business days, per McKesson.
FedEx spokesperson Isabel Rollison said like the Moderna vaccines, FedEx is picking up J&J vaccine doses from McKesson's Olive Branch, Mississippi, facility and placing them into the FedEx network at the Express World Hub in Memphis. The vaccines will be shipped with Priority Overnight delivery to dosing centers across the country.
FedEx, UPS delivering millions of doses
Rollison said Monday the company has transported nearly half of the 100 million vaccines distributed so far.
In a December regulatory filing, FedEx said it anticipates “a modest increase in volumes from the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.” Vaccine volume will soon ramp up.
The 10 million combined doses FedEx and UPS are handling each week is set to jump to 14 million this week, not including the J&J vaccine, UPS Healthcare President Wes Wheeler told Bloomberg on Thursday.
Wheeler said vaccine volume, now at about a third of the expected peak level, will make up about 6% of UPS’ daily worldwide volume at its eventual peak, the report said.
The one-shot J&J vaccine should be easier to distribute to rural areas and other places without pharmaceutical-grade freezers, because it can be stored for longer in a refrigerator.
According to J&J, the vaccine is estimated to remain stable for two years at minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit, at least three months of which can be at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
About 20 million total doses of the new vaccine should be made available this month, and another 80 million by the end of June.
Winter weather has slowed Express
The introduction of the new vaccine into the distribution plan comes as FedEx Express, the FedEx company delivering the doses, continues to grapple with the effects mid-February winter storms had on its network. The World Hub in Memphis, its largest distribution hub and a key facility in vaccine distribution, slowed significantly as snowed-in employees couldn’t get to work.
A White House advisor said roughly three days of delayed shipping due to the storms created a backlog of 6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.
FedEx Express executive Richard Smith, who is leading the company’s vaccine distribution effort, said last week that the company was able to minimize the number of doses stuck in Memphis. FedEx diverted volume to other facilities, including Indianapolis and Oakland, in anticipation of the winter weather.
On Friday, FedEx told customers that delays are still likely for FedEx pickups and deliveries across the U.S. FedEx executives have repeatedly stressed that COVID-19 vaccines are the top priority in its network.
FedEx is tracking the valuable vaccine cargo via its Priority Alert advanced monitoring technology.
“Over the past three months we have demonstrated the power of our network as we deliver safely and reliably with an average delivery time of less than 20 hours,” Smith, regional president of the Americas and executive vice president of global support for FedEx Express, said in a statement Monday.
FedEx and McKesson have had experience working with each other beyond COVID-19 vaccines, as McKesson has often shipped other vaccines through FedEx. McKesson has been distributing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, along with producing and distributing supply kits for both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
This article originally appeared on Commercial Appeal