The Trucking Industry is About to Take a Starring Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Efforts
Sunday, December 13, 2020

By Andrew Jackson

Reports that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be made available in the U.S. are welcome news in what has been a tough year.

Truck drivers were in the spotlight this spring and summer as they risked their health to keep our country moving forward. Now, as the manufacturing and distribution phases of Operation Warp Speed ramp up, carriers and drivers will become a vital component to one of the most important supply chain efforts in a generation.

Developments related to the rollout are moving fast. Carriers and freight agents will need to be nimble to keep up. Here’s our thoughts on vaccine rollout as we enter what will hopefully be a turning point in the coronavirus pandemic.

Truck Drivers Should be Counted Among Essential Workers for Vaccines

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted on Dec. 1 that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be the first to receive the vaccine when it becomes available. This makes sense. Our healthcare workers are on the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, long-term care residents are among the most vulnerable populations hit by the virus.

As of this writing, the ACIP has not made a recommendation about who should be next in line. We believe that the second wave should include truck drivers. The country’s truck drivers are not only necessary to keep our shelves stocked. They are also essential to vaccine distribution. If drivers are out sick with COVID-19, it will increase the pressure on a system that is already at capacity.

The Department of Transportation recently expanded its nationwide exemption for hours-of-service regulations for trucking companies and drivers. The exemption applies in part to those who are providing direct emergency assistance in support of vaccine transportation. We hope this recognition of the vital role that drivers play will encourage ACIP and state leaders to ensure truck drivers have early access to the vaccine.

Carriers and Freight Agents Will Need to Be Ready

Distributing the vaccine will be an all-hands-on-deck effort. While contracts to haul vaccines are already being negotiated between pharmaceutical companies and USPS and FedEx, less than load and final-mile carriers will likely be needed to reach all corners of the U.S.

Specialized refrigeration systems will be required for the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit). Investing in this type of equipment is a risky bet without more detailed distribution plans in place. However, innovative refrigeration systems, as reported in Overdrive, may allow for vaccines to be transported by dry vans or straight trucks.

Vaccines manufactured by Moderna and AstraZeneca, the other two frontrunners, can be kept at refrigerated temperatures for a set period of time. As a result, carriers and brokers who want to be part of the effort may need to expand their reefer fleets.

For those carriers that aren’t part of the actual vaccine rollout, there will still be high demand for ancillary products, such as syringes and latex gloves. Moving these products from distribution centers to their final destinations could drive up business for carriers that have the right relationships in place.

US Logistics Will be Ready to Roll

While the speed of vaccine development is unprecedented, it has created a situation in which supply chain stakeholders are building the plane while flying it. What role will smaller fleets play in deployment? Will already-tight capacity lead to a shortage of goods as vaccine distribution is given priority? What downstream effects will rapid, high-volume vaccine deployment have on such factors as rates and staffing? These questions will need to be answered in the coming weeks as the country prepares to roll out the first doses of vaccine.

At U.S. Logistics, we are keeping a close watch on these developments to ensure we can mobilize quickly when a vaccine is finally given the green light for distribution. We are preparing to set up more reefer carriers that meet the CDC’s transportation safety standards in our system. And our agents are ready to handle an influx in demand for both regular and vaccine-related freight.

This is one of the most important times in our history for the trucking industry. We are proud to be standing by, ready to support our carriers and their drivers as they prepare for the final leg in our fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

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