COVID-19 vaccine distribution: Chicago-based United Airlines has started shipping coronavirus shot, source says

DHL will also be helping with vaccine distribution, has facility at O'Hare airport

ByMichelle Gallardo and ABC 7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Chicago readies for COVID-19 vaccine as United starts shipping 1st batches
Thousands of coronavirus vaccine doses may already be in Chicago, ready to be deployed.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago-based United Airlines has begun shipping the first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine on charter flights, a source told ABC News.

The source is familiar with the operation, according to ABC.

The Federal Aviation Administration had already given the OK for the first mass air shipment of a COVID-19 vaccine.

RELATED: Chicago expected to play pivotal role in COVID-19 vaccine transportation, distribution

This means thousands of coronavirus vaccine doses may already be in Chicago, ready to be deployed. But even as United Airlines confirmed that it has already begun shipping the first batches of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccination, it may still be a couple of weeks before the FDA grants the drug emergency use authorization (EUA).

"We, from a federal perspective, have promised a quick review of EUAs and [will] hopefully start sending out vaccines within 24 to 48 hours," U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on FOX News.

The FAA said it established a transport team in October to "ensure safe, expeditious and efficient transportation of vaccines."

The agency said it is also ensuring around-the-clock air traffic services in an effort to prioritize flights carrying vaccines and personnel.

In the United States, United and DHL are among the companies that have partnered to distribute a vaccine once it is approved for use.

DHL will also be involved in the transportation and storage of the vaccine in various locations, a spokesman said Saturday. The delivery service would not disclose exactly where the COVID-19 vaccine would be stored.

RELATED: Health officials aim to build COVID-19 vaccine trust as part of distribution plan

As the race for the COVID-19 vaccine continues, those in the trials for both Moderna and Pfizer are describing the side effects.

"At the same time, our DHL Global Forwarding division has a major life science and healthcare certified facility at Chicago O'Hare which will play an important role in our activities to support the vaccine logistics," the spokesman said.

On Friday, a United spokesperson said, "United Cargo established a COVID Readiness Task Team earlier this summer to help ensure we have the right people, products, services, and partnerships in place to support a vaccine distribution effort on a global scale. We have made a commitment to our pharmaceutical and medical customers that we are ready to safely and effectively support their vaccines transportation needs. The safety and security of these commodities is our priority and we are proud to be a trusted partner in these efforts."

A meeting to discuss Pfizer's application is currently set for December 10th.

Moderna, which is conducting a trial at UIC, is also expected to apply for an EUA within days.

"Any day now. It's probably going to happen immediately after the holiday weekend is my guess," said Rick Novak at UI Health. "I know they did reach all their end points because we're in a surge, we're getting cases. I mean, throughout this whole weekend I've been getting cases of people with symptomatic disease in our study population."

On the South and West sides of the city, a vaccine can't come soon enough, with Black and brown communities the hardest hit by the pandemic.

A post-Thanksgiving free testing event was offered for the uninsured in North Lawndale Sunday. However, community leaders acknowledge there is a lot of work to do to overcome the trust gap if people in those areas are going to want to be vaccinated.

"There is no doubt that Black and brown people don't trust the system," said IL State Representative La Shawn Ford. "It is a system we're going to be dealing with as relates to distribution and giving out the vaccine."

Once approval is given and distribution begins, Illinois is ready to receive approximately 400,000 doses of the vaccine, with up to 40 million expected to be shipped nationally by the end of the year.