American Airways begins delivery COVID-19 vaccine destined for the Caribbean

American Airlines began shipping COVID-19 vaccinations from Chicago to US territory in the Caribbean on Sunday evening as global efforts begin to make the first round of vaccinations available to the public.

The Fort Worth-based American trucked Pfizer and BioNTech shipments at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on a flight to Miami International Airport before being forwarded to its final location, the airline said on Monday.

“We were able to mobilize to move thousands of cans within hours of the call,” American Airlines cargo president Jessica Tyler said in a statement. “We know this is the first of many shipments and we are ready to scale our operations as additional vaccine is manufactured and ready to be distributed.”

American did not identify the U.S. territory that received the vaccine. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands – St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas – are US territories in the Caribbean.

Pfizer began shipping vials from its Kalamazoo, Michigan facility on Sunday after receiving emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration amid the pandemic that has crippled businesses, schools, travel and killed more than 300,000 Americans had centers for disease control and prevention.

American and other airlines and freight companies have been preparing to distribute vaccines for months to ensure planes are equipped to handle the negative 94-degree Fahrenheit temperatures required to carry the drugs.

Airlines have been just as badly hit by the COVID-19 crisis as almost any other industry, and airlines are counting on the vaccines to not only provide cargo on underutilized planes, but also to boost the travel industry.

About 3 million doses of the vaccine can be distributed, and health facilities in North Texas began shipping on Monday.

American’s first shipment was on a Boeing 777-200. Only larger large-body nozzles can transport the fragile vaccines in the cold store. The airlines have been in contact for months with federal officials responsible for Operation Warp Speed ​​to ensure that there is enough cargo capacity in the US to get the products to hospitals and other health authorities quickly and safely.

A plane like the Boeing 777-200 can carry up to 1 million doses of the vaccine, according to United Airlines.

American has parked most of its wide-body jets in the last few months as the planes are primarily used on long-haul international flights and busy transcontinental routes. Instead, they have used smaller planes like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 as the planes have only been about half full on average over the past few months.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker has asked government officials to incentivize airlines so that they have enough staff and airplanes to help distribute the vaccines.

So far, freight companies like UPS and FedEx have shifted the majority of COVID-19 vaccine shipments during this initial phase of distribution. However, United and Chicago-based United have also prepared to distribute the coronavirus shipments as demand and production increase.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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