US Air Force's freighters could be deployed to fly truck loads of vaccine
US military aircraft will play a major role in emergency distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine because there aren't enough private-sector cargo jets to handle the surge of millions of doses that must be maintained at subfreezing temperatures, according to a logistics expert with close ties to the government
US military aircraft will play a major role in emergency distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine because there aren't enough private-sector cargo jets to handle the surge of millions of doses that must be maintained at subfreezing temperatures, according to a logistics expert with close ties to the government.
Federal health officials recently released their Covid-19 vaccine distribution strategy and said they plan to start shipping supplies within 24 hours after the Food and Drug Administration approves a vaccine's use.
The Department of Defense, which is already heavily involved in planning logistics strategy for getting a vaccine to the entire population as part of Operation Warp Speed, said it doesn't anticipate any significant deployment of military assets to supplement commercial freight transportation providers.
'The first wave or so, I do not think can be handled by the commercial industry. The military will be actively involved in supporting that movement,' said Bill Boesch, who led American Airlines' cargo division for nine years in the 1990s and now runs a consulting firm that does work for the US Air Force and other DOD agencies.
'It's going to be probably one of the most advanced logistics challenges that we have ever seen since World War II.'
Government officials are mapping out the locations of domestic production facilities in relation to distribution depots and administration sites such as clinics and nursing homes to see how much vaccine can move by truck, or if it needs to be flown, Mr Boesch said in a follow-up interview with American Shipper, a FreightWaves publication.
Hospitals don't have enough storage capacity for the large shipments, he said after the event, so one idea being considered is to load refrigerated trailers on Air Force C-5 and C-17 cargo planes that have roll-on/roll-off ramps. At the destination, the units will be hooked up to waiting tractors for final delivery and then plugged into electric outlets available in most hospital loading areas.
The Pentagon dismissed the idea that giant military airlifters will be deployed on vaccine missions.
'Our best military assessment is that there is sufficient US commercial transportation capacity to fully support vaccine distribution. There should be no need for a large commitment of DOD units or personnel to support the nationwide distribution of vaccines,' spokesman Charles Prichard said.
'Any DOD required support would be by exception. For example, military air assets may be called upon to deliver vaccines to a remote location only if no other means of transportation is feasible. However, there are no details yet on if that option will need to be used during distribution.'
With the US military involved, a total US distribution of a one-dose vaccine could be completed in a few weeks, Mr Boesch predicted.