PORTAGE, Mich. — Three semi-trucks loaded with the nation’s first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine rolled out of the parking lot of the Pfizer manufacturing plant early Sunday morning, met with cheering crowds of local residents who said they were proud of their hometown’s contribution to science, and helping to bring the end to the coronavirus pandemic.
The caravan of FedEx, UPS and Boyle Transportation trucks — led and tailed by unmarked police cars — pulled out of the parking lot about 8:25 a.m., headed to airports and distribution centers on a historic journey.
Millions of doses of the company’s coronavirus vaccine were inside those trucks, and could be injected into the arms of the American people as early as Monday morning.
“It’s history, and it’s hope,” said Joyce Hutcheson, 76, of Portage. She teared up as the trucks pulled out of the loading dock because the pandemic has been long and hard, and she misses seeing her great grandchildren.
“When the hospitals started filling up, my granddaughter and my grandson said, ‘We don’t want anything to happen to you. We want you to dance at Lizzie’s wedding.’ “
That meant she could no longer see her Lizzie or Lizzie’s brother. But a hint of a smile spread across Hutcheson’s face when she added, “Lizzie is 6. She better get married at 12 because I’m old.”
Susan Deur, 62, of Plainwell stood outside the plant for hours in 35-degree temperatures Sunday morning to watch the trucks leave. She said she’ll get the vaccine when it’s her turn.
“It is pretty exciting,” she said. “I’m pretty proud of our Pfizer here in Kalamazoo.”
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is about 95% effective, is the first to leap all federal regulatory hurdles except one, the blessing of Robert Redfield, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If he signs off, Pfizer has said it will deliver 6.4 million doses around the country in this initial shipment. Michigan’s share of that first delivery is 84,825 doses.
The shipment early Sunday morning from its plant in Portage involved 1.95 million doses of the vaccine. Each vial of the vaccine includes five doses, the company said. And 975 vials fit in each of its insulated boxes. A total of 400 boxes were loaded onto those trucks.
Because Pfizer’s vaccine must be frozen at the ultra-cold temperature of minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for storage, shipping doses to hospitals and public health agencies is a challenge.
The vaccines can be kept safely at 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 24 hours or at room temperature for no more than two hours after it thaws, the company says.
That means hospitals and public health agencies around the state have been buying ultra-cold deep freezers to store the Pfizer vaccine, and the company had to come up with creative ways to ship it.
Pfizer created temperature-controlled thermal shippers that use dry ice to maintain ultra-cold temperatures for up to 10 days unopened. Some of the boxes will be sent by air to hubs around the U.S., the company says, and then delivered to the sites where they’ll be administered. Others will be delivered by ground transport.
The company said it is taking precautions to ensure that the vaccines stay cold enough during shi
A FedEx and a UPS trucks back into the loading dock Sunday at Pfizer Global Supply in Portage, Mich.