FedEx vows to avoid transport bottlenecks in vaccine roll-out

Published November 3, 2020, 5:00 AM

by Bloomberg

FedEx Corp. is pledging to avoid transportation logjams when a massive operation begins to deliver a coronavirus vaccine.

The air-freight giant will free up whatever capacity is needed to speed the delicate cargo to distributors or vaccination centers, said Richard Smith, executive vice president of the Americas for FedEx Express. The company is holding daily calls with vaccine developers and U.S. government agencies such as the Defense Department that are in charge of logistics for the roll-out.

“I don’t foresee the bottlenecks or challenges on the transportation side,” Smith, who is spearheading FedEx’s vaccine-delivery operations, said by telephone. “We have the capacity out there to handle these vaccines and certainly they’re going to be given the highest priority in our network.”

Couriers including FedEx, United Parcel Service Inc. and Deutsche Post AG’s DHL are gearing up for a massive airlift and ground-transportation operation in an unprecedented effort to distribute coronavirus vaccines — once they’re ready. Some 15,000 cargo flights will be needed over a two-year period to deliver 10 billion doses, according to a report by DHL and McKinsey & Co.

FedEx has ample experience moving cold-chain goods such as the flu vaccine and medical samples that sometimes need to be frozen to minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower, said Smith, the son of FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith.

The Memphis, Tennessee-based company uses containers with dry ice, or liquid nitrogen storage units that can keep their contents at such freezing temperatures for as long as 10 days. The younger Smith said he doesn’t anticipate any supply problems for those specialized items.

The logistics challenge will get a boost from new technological tools, he said. FedEx has recently developed low-cost, lightweight tags that provide real-time information about a shipment, including location, temperature and whether the container has been breached. That will help minimize deliveries that go astray, he said. “We’re just waiting until they tell us they have a vaccine ready and we will be ready to go out there and deliver it to every ZIP code in the U.S.,” Smith said. “We’ll be ready to deliver it around the world as well.”