Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution – Possibly the Most Important Supply Chain

Covid-19 vaccine distribution is headline news across the country. Operation Warp Speed, the umbrella term for the public-private partnership responsible for the development, distribution, and administration of Covid-19 vaccines, is incredibly large, complex, and important to the well-being of the US population. The US government, private entities, and news outlets provide select insights and periodic updates about the Covid-19 distribution process. This article was written to concisely aggregate and communicate that information from a supply chain perspective.

vaccine distribution process diagram
Source: US DoD

The Primary Distribution Partners

The Covid-19 supply chain is incredibly complex, involving large volumes and numerous partners. However, the major partners discussed in this article include PfizerBioNTech, Moderna, McKesson, FedEx, and UPS.

The Vaccines

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is mostly being shipped from Kalamazoo, Michigan directly to the point of use. Pfizer will also be utilizing its Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin distribution center. The Pfizer vaccine distribution plan involves the use of “specially designed, temperature-controlled thermal shippers utilizing dry ice to maintain recommended storage temperature conditions of -70°C±10°C for up to 10 days unopened.” Pfizer’s plan utilizes strategic transportation partners to ship by air to major hubs and then distribute by ground transportation to dosing locations. FedEx and UPS will be the partners responsible for vaccine transportation. UPS specifically stated that the vaccines will be expedited next day Air from UPS Worldport facilities in Louisville, KY to select point-of-use destinations. Additionally, McKesson is responsible for producing the supply kits for the Pfizer vaccine that will be also distributed by FedEx and UPS.

Moderna Vaccine

Moderna has partnered with Lonza Ltd. for vaccine production. McKesson is serving as a centralized distributor of the Moderna vaccine and the associated supply kits.  FedEx and UPS will work in partnership with McKesson for the transportation FedEx specifically stated that is will use its FedEx Priority Overnight service to transport the vaccine. Moderna reported on January 4th that approximately 18 million doses of its vaccine have been supplied to the U.S. Government to date.

Supporting Supply Chain Technology

Pfizer states that it will “utilize GPS-enabled thermal sensors with a control tower that will track the location and temperature of each vaccine shipment across their pre-set routes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Although Pfizer does not state the source of this capability, I assume the technology is provided by FedEx, UPS, and McKesson. FedEx states in a separate press release that its Moderna vaccine shipments will be monitored by FedEx SenseAware ID, a Bluetooth low-energy sensing device that will provide critical temperature and location data.


Note: The US CDC provides detailed vaccine dose delivery data broken down by state. As of January 5, 2021, 17,020,575 have been distributed. This data represents “cumulative counts of COVID-19 vaccine doses recorded as shipped in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vaccine Tracking System (VTrckS) since December 13, 2020.”