At Senate Commerce Committee, Klobuchar discussed the importance of a strong supply chain to ensure that rural communities have the resources they need to transport, store, and distribute vaccines effectively
Klobuchar has worked across the aisle to secure additional funding for vaccine distribution
WASHINGTON — Today, at a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety hearing called “The Logistics of Transporting a COVID-19 Vaccine,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the urgent need for a federal distribution strategy and strong supply chain to ensure states, local governments, health care systems, and pharmacies -- including in rural communities -- can deliver vaccines in a safe and effective way. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to consider issuing its first emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine after the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee votes on whether to recommend the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine today.
“I think we all know that this vaccine or the vaccines are going to be critical to getting our economy moving again in such a big way. And while states — including my own state of Minnesota — are making the decisions about their own plans for distribution, I think we all know they can’t do it alone,” said Senator Klobuchar at the hearing.
At the hearing, Klobuchar asked Richard W. Smith, Executive Vice President of Global Support at FedEx Express, and Wesley Wheeler, President of Global Healthcare, United Parcel Service, about plans to ensure rural areas are able to receive the vaccine, saying “I was concerned about how these vaccines are going to get to the rural areas. Because they’re not going to just be parachuted in the middle of Luverne, Minnesota.”
In November, Klobuchar joined Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a group of 15 Senate colleagues in a letter urging Congressional leadership to provide adequate funding to ensure the swift distribution of COVID-19 vaccines as a part of any upcoming legislation to address the pandemic.
Klobuchar also joined Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), and 9 of their colleagues in a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield, requesting the agencies to work with state, Tribal, territorial, and local stakeholders to identify gaps in ultra-cold storage capability, particularly in rural and underserved communities, and use existing authority to prevent supply shortages.
Video of remarks from the hearing can be found HERE.
Transcript of remarks/questions as given below:
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much and thank you to all the witnesses here. I think we all know that this vaccine or the vaccines are going to be critical to getting our economy moving again in such a big way. And while states — including my own state of Minnesota — are making the decisions about their own plans for distribution, I think we all know they can’t do it alone. So that’s why this time is so critical as we’re in this hearing room and I want to thank the Chair and the Ranking Member for holding this important hearing at this time. We’ve got to make sure that the resources are there for the states and locals. So I guess I would start with a quick question there of Dr. Levine and that is that could you explain, Dr. Levine — and thank you for your good work — why it’s so important to get some federal help in getting the vaccine distribution going?
DR. RACHEL LEVINE: Well, thank you very much Senator for that question. So the states and the territories, as well as the big cities chosen for this mission stand ready to accomplish it and to immunize everyone in the United States that will accept the vaccine. But that is a critical point. It is absolutely essential that we have proper communication and education messages from the CDC but also from each state, territory, and city to be able to educate people about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and to educate people and to dispel misconceptions about the vaccine as well as work past vaccine hesitancy. We currently have no funding to accomplish that part of our mission. So again $340 million to all of the states — Pennsylvania’s share of that is approximately $14.6 million and that is going to give us a start as we work to distribute and administer the vaccine, hopefully starting next week and then through December and into January. But this is a long mission and it’s going to take much more funding and we have no money for the communication.
KLOBUCHAR: Mr. Smith and Mr. Wheeler, thank you for the work and also of your employees right now — I left my apartment building in Washington and saw all the packages and people working hard, including Postal Service employees, your employees, and so many people every single day are on the frontline so I want to thank them through you for that. Make no complaints about package deliveries, everything’s been going well. But I was concerned about how these vaccines are going to get to the rural areas. Because they’re not going to just be parachuted in the middle of Luverne, Minnesota or to one of the communities in Nebraska for Senator Fischer. So could you talk about how you’re paying attention to that?
MR. RICHARD SMITH: Sure, of course. As I mentioned in my remarks, we have the capability to serve every zip code in the United States of America. We do it every day. We have over 1.7 billion zip code service combinations so with this network capacity -- whether you live in Chicago, Illinois or Murdo, South Dakota -- we’re able to ensure time-definite deliveries of these shipments and we feel very confident in our capabilities in this regard. This is what our network was built to do.
KLOBUCHAR: Okay and then could I add, Mr. Wheeler, just because time is limited here, pharmaceutical companies have reported that about 5-20% of vaccines spoil during distribution -- not your fault, it’s just a fact -- since they are highly perishable products. We don't have an unlimited supply— more than ever, it’s really, really important that they not do that and I assume that tracking technology that you both were talking about is part of that. So in addition to talking about rural, could you get at that?
MR. WESLEY WHEELER: If I understand the question, Senator Klobuchar, it’s about the protection of the product. Okay well this is the product— this is a 2ml vial. This is the Pfizer vaccine -- not the actual vaccine, just salt water, five doses from this when they dilute it. The packaging that Pfizer has developed – and exclusive to Pfizer — we presented that to the President’s vaccine summit this week — very, very highly complex. It has dry ice in the bottom, it has a payload in the middle, it has what we call pizza trays where they can put up to 195 of these small vials in the tray and then they’re packed with more dry ice and then there’s a tracking device on top. I can assure you that I’ve never seen packaging quite that complicated before and they've been very proud to develop that and we were the first to show that out this week. I’m pretty confident, aside from real big damage, that we’re going to have a lot less spoilage than you think.
KLOBUCHAR: And my last question is just the dry ice that I think, Mr. Wheeler, you talked about how I know UPS health care announced increased dry ice production capacity, producing something like 12,000 pounds of dry ice per hour, is that right?
MR. WESLEY WHEELER: 24,000 per day.
KLOBUCHAR: Can any of that dry ice be made available for hospitals and clinics that need extra cold storage and how is supply for necessary transportation and storage materials kept up with this increased demand? I’m trying to look at this as the entire supply chain here as we get this vaccine out.
MR. WESLEY WHEELER: I’m sure we both agree that there’s plenty of third-party supply for dry ice and we’re both prepared to do that. We have that now and we’re fine for several months of dry ice. But to top that off, we actually built a dry ice manufacturing plant in Kentucky so we now have the contingency dry ice and we are able — if we have extra dry ice and I’m sure we will — we can provide that to independent hospitals and clinics around the country.
KLOBUCHAR: Very good. Want to add anything Mr. Smith?
MR. RICHARD SMITH: No, I think he covered it well. We‘ve talked to a number of vendors we use across the country, across the world, on dry ice in terms of dry ice replenishment or top-off for packages when they experience a delay — particularly an international package with a prolonged delay where you may be asked by the customer to top it off. We’re not being asked in this instance to do that while it’s in transit. Post-delivery there may be some dry ice top-off that certain specialty couriers and vendors — Marken, which UPS acquired and is part of their health care business, which Mr. Wheeler ran — will be providing some of those services where they top off post-delivery. But in talking to all these vendors out there, they do not believe that this talk of a dry ice shortage is real. They think there’s plenty of dry ice out there.
KLOBUCHAR: Okay, good. Thank you, both of you. And thank you Dr. Levine, as well.