MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Vice President Mike Pence visited Memphis Thursday to discuss Operation Warp Speed and COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Air Force Two arrived shortly after 1 p.m. at Memphis International Airport. Governor Bill Lee and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland greeted Pence, accompanied by CDC Director Robert Redfield and HHS Secretary Alex Azar, as they stepped off the plane.
At the roundtable, the vice president said the vaccines would bring hope for Americans, but he said the pandemic is not yet over.
“With cases rising across the country, we are still going through a challenging time,” said Pence. “Help is on the way. We are just days away from being able to distribute a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.”
Two drug companies -- Pfizer and Moderna -- have submitted their vaccines for emergency use authorization, which could be approved before Christmas. Tennessee is one of four states chosen to test the distribution plan for Pfizer in which FedEx will play a major role.
“The global health crisis of this scale requires a network of our scale,” said raj Subramaniam, FedEx chief operating officer.
The vice president said he expects vaccines to begin shipping within 24 hours of approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and the first doses could be administered within 24 hours of distribution.
Secretary Azar said the first week’s allocation includes 6.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine followed by 40 million doses -- enough for 20 million Americans -- at the end of December.
Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said Tennessee will first receive 56,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Frontline workers are among the first set to receive the vaccine, which will not be available to all Tennesseans until sometime in 2021.
“One of the challenges is to see whether we have an environment that the American people want to take a vaccine,” said Redfield.
Other roundtable participants included FedEx Express CEO Don Colleran, FedEx Express executive Richard Smith, Patrick Sheehan with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and Wendy Long, CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association.
Long said Tennessee sets new records for hospitalizations daily, but a vaccine will keep health care workers on the job and not in quarantine.
“Vaccination is the key to reducing the stress on our hospital system and reviving our economy,” said Long.