February 9, 2021
W.J. Hennigan and Alice Park for TIME
The truck drove along California’s highways. Analysts in Washington, D.C., were watching closely. They knew the status of its cargo : a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine was held in trays. It was packed with dry ice, sensors, and tracking devices.
Pfizer was the first company to ship COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. That was in December 2020. Its doses must be kept frozen at below-normal temperatures.
The analysts saw a problem. Two trays were too cold. The driver was told not to deliver them. “They never left the truck,” Gustave Perna said. He runs logistics for the U.S. vaccine program.
Shipping the COVID-19 vaccine is hard. Keeping it frozen is even harder. So technology is used to keep track of it.
Every box of Pfizer’s vaccine has a GPS device . It also has a temperature monitor. And it has a bar code. If the doses go to the wrong place or get too hot or cold, officials know.
Another vaccine, by the company Moderna, has been authorized. More are on the way. To stay on top of it all, the government made software . It’s called Tiberius. It helps agencies follow vaccines. “They can dive in and really go into great detail,” says Deacon Maddox. He works for the U.S. vaccine program.
The first people to get the vaccine have been healthcare workers and the elderly. Even with technology at work, vaccines won’t be available to most adults in the U.S. until at least this spring.