Transporting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Michael Clevenger – Pool and MARK LENNIHAN/POOL/AFPGetty

The first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine left Michigan on Sunday bound for hospitals across the US.

A fleet of trucks and airplanes, accompanied by armed guards, ensured that the vaccine was quickly and safely transported.

The first shot was given in New York on Monday, just days after the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization on Friday. 

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The first COVID-19 vaccine was given emergency authorization in the US on Friday and no time was wasted in getting it to the public. Just three days passed before the first person was inoculated, kicking off a nationwide vaccination campaign that aims to end this pandemic in the new year. 

Pfizer’s vaccine was first transported to the US in late November and brought to the company’s Kalamazoo, Michigan facility. Shippers descended on the facility over the weekend with trucks, airplanes, and armed guards to get the first doses to hospitals across the country quickly and safely. 

By Monday morning, the vaccine was already ready for its first recipients, with New York’s Northwell Health declaring itself the first to give the drug to frontline workers. Air cargo carriers, passenger airlines, and over-the-road freight companies had been preparing for this effort for months by overhauling their pharmaceutical transport capabilities and creating protocols specifically for transporting the Pfizer vaccine. 

Read more: 5 airlines with the authority to carry unprecedented amounts of dry ice – a key advantage for capitalizing on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Here’s how Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine gets from Michigan into your bloodstream. 

Pfizer’s Kalamazoo facility was a beehive of activity over the weekend following Friday’s emergency authorization of the first COVID-19 vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer’s Kalamazoo, Michigan facility. JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty

The authorization was expected and Pfizer had been preparing for a nationwide rollout.

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Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

Workers spent the weekend preparing for the first shipments, which departed on Sunday.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

Just weeks prior to the authorization, a United Airlines Boeing 777-200 brought the first doses of the vaccine into the US from Brussels, Belgium on a chartered flight.

A United Airlines Boeing 777-200. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty Images

United had overcome one of the largest limitations to flying Pfizer’s vaccine, its excessive dry ice requirements, with the help of the Federal Aviation Administration. by receiving authorization to carry five times the normal amount of dry ice that the airline could normally.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

Read More: How United Airlines overcame one of the largest limitations to transporting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to the US

Dry ice is considered a dangerous good in aviation as it sublimates into carbon dioxide, which can incapacitate the crew if not properly managed.

Stephen Maturen/Getty

Read More: Inside the COVID-19 vaccine airlift: How cargo carriers plan to distribute the world’s soon-to-be most valuable drugs to market

Each shipment is packed with over 20 kilograms of dry ice to keep the vaccine at its ideal storage temperature of -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

Any higher and the vaccine can become ineffective and every dose counts towards ending the pandemic.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

Its temperature requirement is among the largest hurdles in transporting the Pfizer vaccine, with competing vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson having less strict requirements.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

The first step of the transportation process is then loading the shipments onto refrigerated trucks.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

Some trucks will go to the nearby airport while others will travel across the country. Trucks have a higher tolerance for dry ice shipments since the truck is separate from the trailer.

Rey Del Rio/Getty

Then, it’s time to finally hit the road!

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

In just a few hours, these vaccines will travel across the US in preparation for the first inoculations the next day.

JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty

US Marshals provided escorts for the vaccine while on the road.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

The vaccine is a huge target for theft due to the drug’s high importance.

Morry Gash – Pool/Getty

But the first convoy encountered no issues along the route to Lansing’s Capital Region International Airport and Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International Airport where aircraft awaited to take the vaccine onwards.

JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty

Kalamazoo has its own airport but those in Lansing and Grand Rapids are the closest with service from the large cargo airlines like UPS Airlines and FedEx Express.

Rey Del Rio/Getty

US Marshals were also on hand at the airport as the massive containers were loaded onto the Boeing 757-200F, alongside standard boxes.

Rey Del Rio/Getty

But while flying with iPhone orders and Amazon purchases, airlines have stated they’ll give the vaccine priority.

Rey Del Rio/Getty

Vaccines and other pharma products are already given priority due to their perishable natures.

Rey Del Rio/Getty

Captaining the UPS flight was Houston Mills, UPS’ vice president of flight operations & safety.

Michael Clevenger – Pool/Getty

Source: Linkedin and WDRB

Mills is a Marine Corps veteran who flew F-18 fighter jets during the Gulf War.

Michael Clevenger – Pool/Getty

Source: Linkedin and WDRB

And it’s off to the UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, where the shipments will be distributed across the UPS network.

Michael Clevenger – Pool/Getty

After a quick 56-minute flight south, the jet arrived in Louisville after an uneventful flight. The FAA has said it will give priority to vaccine flights moving forward to ensure no issues.

Michael Clevenger – Pool/Getty

Source: FlightAware

Now in Louisville, the shipments can be sorted onto other aircraft and trucks. UPS Airlines flies across the US and as far as Dubai from Louisville with Asian cities just a one-stop flight away via Anchorage.

Michael Clevenger – Pool/Getty

UPS Airlines alone has a fleet of over 275 aircraft, with the largest being the Boeing 747-8F.

A UPS Airlines Boeing 747-8F aircraft. Thiago B Trevisan / Shutterstock.com

Source: Planespotters.net

Once they arrive at their destinations, the vaccines are loaded onto trucks like this one, the standard brown UPS delivery truck.

ANDREJ IVANOV/AFP/Getty

Hospitals around the US received the vaccine by Monday with the first inoculations occurring on Monday morning.

Stephen Maturen/Getty

Read More: Meet Sandra Lindsay, a nurse in New York City who was the first person in America to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Hospitals went from receiving their first known COVID-19 patients to receiving the vaccine in less than a year.

Stephen Maturen/Getty

Pop open the box and this is what you’ll find, a small 5-dose vial of vaccine.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. MARK LENNIHAN/POOL/AFP/Getty

In New York, nurse Sandra Lindsay was the first to receive the shot. Healthcare workers and the elderly will be the first to receive the shot.

MARK LENNIHAN/POOL/AFP/Getty

Source: Northwell Health

But the job isn’t over as Lyndsay will have to come back in 21 days for a follow-up shot. And the whole logistical cycle begins again.

MARK LENNIHAN/POOL/AFP/Getty

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