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7;s largest airline says that once the coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available, it could force passengers to travel abroad.

USA TODAY

Charter flights delivering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to the United States from Belgium began on Friday, the start of what the Federal Aviation Administration calls the first “mass air shipment” of a coronavirus vaccine.

Coronavirus vaccines are not yet approved in the United States, but preparations for their spread are growing. According to FDA rules, the vaccine cannot be sent to actual sites of administration until it is licensed or authorized by the FDA.

The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration by mid-December.

Although it cannot be delivered to doctors, the vaccine can be pre-positioned at distribution sites to allow faster delivery once it is authorized, which began on Friday.

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Operation Warp Speed, a White House-led initiative to develop and distribute vaccines, plans to begin the first deliveries of vaccines within 24 hours of FDA approval.

Pfizer has two plants producing its COVID-19 vaccine, one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and one in Puurs, Belgium.

In a statement Sunday, health and social services confirmed the shipments came from Europe

“Operation Warp Speed ​​leaders are aware of and facilitate the delivery of vaccines coming to the United States from Belgium. In our efforts to minimize the potential risk to delivery and distribution, we cannot provide specific details about where vaccines are produced and stored. “, reads the statement Read.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that United Airlines charter flights must have doses of the vaccine for rapid distribution if it is allowed.

Pfizer has a place of distribution in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, where its vaccine is stored. There may be other sites across the country where the vaccine will be stored before authorization.

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The FAA COVID-19 Vaccine Air Transport Team was set up in October to deal with airborne vaccine transport issues.

“The FAA provides round-the-clock air traffic services to keep air cargo moving and prioritize flights carrying cargo, such as vaccines, and personnel that are critical to the country’s response and recovery from COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement. .

The need for large amounts of dry ice is one of the reasons the FAA is involved. The agency classifies dry ice as hazardous material.

Pfizer should be stored at ultra-cold temperatures of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The company has designed a special delivery container the size of a hand luggage that holds about 20 kilograms of dry ice to keep the vaccine at the required temperature.

The amount of dry ice an aircraft can carry is limited by the FDA because when dry ice sublimes to the gaseous form of carbon dioxide, it can reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, which can lead to suffocation in enclosed, poorly ventilated areas.

“The FAA is working with manufacturers, air carriers and airport authorities to provide guidance on the implementation of current regulatory requirements for the safe transportation of large quantities of dry ice in air cargo,” the statement said.

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