US readies Moderna vaccine for distribution after granting emergency approval

NEW YORK — The first of millions of doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine are being prepared for shipping to locations across the United States, a top official says, hours after it was authorized for use in the hardest-hit country in the world.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday that it had granted emergency approval for the vaccine, a week after it did the same with the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech.

“Distribution of the Moderna vaccine has already begun,” says General Gus Perna, who is overseeing the massive logistical operation as part of the government’s Operation Warp Speed.

The first doses are being moved today from the manufacturing center in Bloomington, Indiana, to warehouses operated by logistics firm McKesson in preparation for shipping tomorrow.

“Boxes are being packed and loaded today. Trucks will begin rolling out tomorrow from FedEx and UPS,” the general says at a press briefing.

Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature much lower than standard freezers and which forced the company to develop special containers for transport.

But the Moderna vaccine can be stored at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit). Perna says the less stringent conditions allow “jurisdictions the flexibility to support hard to reach, small, and more rural areas,” though he adds that was up to state authorities.

Since the FDA granted the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine emergency authorization one week ago, some 2.9 million doses have been delivered in the US, according to the general.

He says the government still expects to have delivered 20 million doses of vaccine by the end of the year, although that figure may only be reached in the first week of January.