The global effort to move Covid-19 vaccines has begun


A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here.

Around the world, countries are issuing emergency approvals of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Now transportation and logistics companies face a huge challenge: Getting millions of doses to people who need them at hospitals, clinics and care homes.

What’s happening: The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the vaccine for emergency use. The United Kingdom and Canada have given the green light to begin distribution.

Approval of the Moderna (MRNA) vaccine could also be imminent, following reviews that showed it was both safe and effective.

Businesses have been preparing for this moment for months. Thermo King — which revolutionized the transportation of food through advances in temperature-controlled shipping before World War II — has been working with pharmaceutical companies, governments and logistics firms to ensure vaccines stay frozen as they travel to clinics and hospitals.

To make this happen, they’ve reworked containers typically used to transport fresh tuna to Japan, which requires similar frigid conditions.

“We took that product and we amended it,” Francesco Incalza, president Thermo King Europe, Middle East and Africa, told me.

Tuna must be stored at -60 degrees Celsius, or -76 degrees Fahrenheit, to maintain its quality and deep red hue when it reaches supermarkets and restaurants, Incalza said. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, or -94 degrees Fahrenheit, while in transit.

So Thermo King, which is part of Ireland-based Trane Technologies, made some tweaks, adding additional insulation and adjusting the refrigeration system so it could get even colder. Now, each 20-foot-long container can carry 300,000 doses of the Pfizer (PFE) vaccine by land or sea. Some have already been sold and are making their way around the globe.

It’s just one example of how companies stand at the ready to handle the delicate, complex process of vaccine distribution.

My colleagues Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean report that within 24 hours of an emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers and shippers are prepared to activate the delivery chain — a complex system that involves warehouses, trucks and planes. Planning, dry runs and stockpiling are already underway.

Airlines will be at the center of the effort. Delivering vaccines will require an estimated 8,000 flights, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Practice makes perfect: American Airlines (AAL) says its wide-body Boeing 787 jetliners can carry about a half-million vaccine doses. It began running test flights between South America and Miami in November.

FedEx (FDX), meanwhile, says it has more than 90 cold storage facilities worldwide to help keep the Pfizer vaccine sufficiently cold. UPS (UPS) will oversee “a highly coordinated set of movements” from a command center in Louisville, Kentucky.

But the United States isn’t alone in requiring coordination. In a recent interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Melinda Gates urged leaders of wealthy countries not to forget about the rest of the world.

“Everybody needs this vaccine,” said Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “If we only get it to the high-income countries, this disease is going to bounce around. We’re going to see twice as many deaths.”

The British pound could be heading for a crash

The British pound could plunge if the United Kingdom does not finalize a trade deal with the European Union, my CNN Business colleague Charles Riley reports.

Currency traders who once assumed a deal would be completed before a Brexit transition period ends on Jan. 1 have been nervously watching the latest signals out of London and Brussels.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Brussels last week for dinner with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The trip failed to produce a breakthrough on thorny issues including fishing rights, government aid for companies and how disputes would be settled.

But officials returned to the negotiating table and the United Kingdom and the European Union announced on Sunday that talks would be extended once again. Sunday had been the latest self-imposed deadline.

Investors are likely to see the extension as a positive sign. But they won’t be able to fully relax until a deal has been finalized.

“The binary outcome [deal or no-deal] is on a knife’s edge which potentially sets the pound up for an outsized move once the Brexit saga reaches its finale,” Han Tan, a market analyst at FXTM, said in a research note Friday. The fact that the pound hasn’t yet “capitulated” against the dollar suggests there’s still “pent-up hope” that a deal will be secured, he added.

The pound was trading close to $1.35 earlier this month when an agreement between the United Kingdom and its biggest export market looked more likely. Analysts have warned that the currency could quickly plunge to $1.20 if it becomes clear that a deal is no longer possible. On Friday, it hovered near $1.32, a 0.6% decline.

Up next

Monday: OPEC monthly report

Tuesday: European Union expected to propose new tech regulations; US industrial production data; American Outdoor Brands (AOBC) earnings

Wednesday: Federal Reserve decision; US retail sales; Flash PMI data

Thursday: Bank of England decision; US jobless claims and housing starts; Accenture (ACN), General Mills (GIS), Rite Aid (RAD), BlackBerry (BB) and FedEx (FDX) earnings

Friday: Bank of Japan decision; Nike (NKE) earnings

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