For most of the world’s population, 2020 brought never-before-seen challenges, beginning with a global pandemic caused by a new coronavirus. As 2020 came to a close and 2021 dawned, the number of COVID-19 cases — along with deaths related to the disease — continued to climb.
The pandemic brought the trucking industry into the international spotlight as professional drivers put in countless hours on the road, working to provide hospitals and pharmacies with medical supplies, and grocery stores stocked with essentials (who could ever forget the great toilet-paper shortage?).
For most truck drivers, those hours spent on the road were “all in a day’s work.” Many were surprised when they were greeted with cheers as they made their deliveries. As 2020 progressed, some of that appreciation faded — but drivers continued to work behind the scenes, making sure vital supplies, as well as little luxuries, reached their destinations in a safe and timely manner.
On Sunday, December 13, 2020, truck drivers and other members of the transportation industry once again found themselves in the spotlight as the first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) departed Pfizer’s Portage, Michigan, facility. That day was the start of the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history, an effort that health officials are encouraging the public to embrace.
As transport trucks stood ready to distribute those first rounds of vaccine, Pfizer employees — dressed in bright yellow shirts, blue hard hats, and insulated gloves — worked quickly to pack vials into boxes and place them into freezer cases with dry ice. These cases, which were tracked with GPS sensors, then traveled via truck to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be loaded onto cargo planes for distribution around the U.S.
In addition to global ground carriers such as FedEx and UPS, Massachusetts-based Boyle Transportation was part of that December 13 vaccine rollout, with two teams of drivers participating in the first convoy to leave Pfizer’s Michigan facility.
“It was an honor for us to play a small role in that historic event,” said Boyle’s Company Co-president Andrew Boyle. “There were so many eyes watching, and people crying, seeing your vehicle go by — that’s quite a humbling experience.”
Since that December vaccine launch, the FDA has approved a second COVID-19 vaccine, this one manufactured by Massachusetts-based Moderna, and more vaccines are on the horizon as the coronavirus continues to mutate and spread.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pfizer’s vaccine must be held at a frigid minus 112 to minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. In comparison, Moderna’s vaccine can be held at a balmy minus 13 to minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The packaging, transport and administration of either vaccine relies on a complex web of suppliers of products ranging from glass vials to dry ice and freezer containers, and each item must be safely and quickly delivered to its destination.
Drivers with Load One LLC, based in Taylor, Michigan, are working to deliver the supplies needed to manufacture and transport COVID-19 vaccines, according to the company’s Vice President of Sales Chad Tabor, who said the carrier specializes in time-critical, high-value shipments.
“We provide a solution that moves on an exclusive-use truck, meaning the freight is not mixed with other freight, and the only handling of the actual freight is by the shipper and the consignee,” explained Tabor. “Naturally, this makes us a good fit for a situation such as the fight against a pandemic, where every second matters.”
In addition to transporting COVID-19 testing supplies and storage components for vaccines, Load One has been tasked with delivering high-value medical equipment to laboratories where scientists are working to develop new vaccines.
“We couldn’t be more proud of the opportunity to support our country in the fight against this disease, which has claimed so many lives,” stated Tabor. “Everyone at Load One is happy to answer the call to action, from our drivers moving the freight on a daily basis, to our operations and sales team who work with our customers to ensure we provide the best possible service we can. We will continue to fight it the best way we know how.”
While much of the transportation of vaccines and related supplies will rely on air cargo and last-mile delivery services, Boyle stressed that over-the-road ground freight will continue to play a vital role in transport.
“Up to this point, there have been heroic efforts by the drug developers, the clinical trial participants and the regulators,” said Boyle. “But now, we’re at a point where the execution is going to rely, in large part, on blue-collar transportation and logistics professionals — people on the loading dock, professional truck drivers and mechanics, the air cargo handlers, pilots, and then ultimately the package delivery drivers. Those are our people. We’re not scientists, but we can play our role. We’re not physicians or nurses, but we can play our role.
“Let’s remember, there are millions of people without a job right now,” he continued. “There are millions of people who can’t feed their family members, and there are millions of kids who can’t go to school. We have an opportunity to apply our trade and contribute to solving that problem. What greater honor is there?”