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COVID Vaccine Ready To Be Delivered From O'Hare, Can Shipping Companies Handle Holiday Packages And Vaccine Deliveries?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The drug company Moderna asked the FDA for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19  vaccine. Trials show the vaccine is more than 94% effective.

This comes one week after Pfizer asked the FDA to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine. If approved, both vaccines could be available in the U.S. before Christmas.

Delivery of those vaccines could delay your holiday gifts. With online sales booming, there are big questions: Can shipping companies handle both?

CBS 2 investigator Megan Hickey reports from O'Hare, where vaccine shipments have already arrived.

CBS News confirmed that United Airlines has already moved vaccines between Brussels and O'Hare to allow for quick distribution if the shots are approved by regulators.

The race to approve and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine is a full out sprint.  But the National Retail Federation expects e-commerce to grow 20% to 30% over last year.

As the number of items in your virtual cart grows, shipping demands are on the rise, too.

"When it comes to capacity on an airplane vaccine is going to have priority over, let's say, post office, for instance," said Hani S. Mahmassani, Director of the Northwestern University Transportation. "So, there is going to be that  issue.

Logistics expert Hani Mahmassani, Director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center said that a shipping system at max capacity during the pandemic will be even more vulnerable to bad weather in the Midwest.

"There's a real concern here if we get some big snowstorm through the Midwest or Chicago," Mahmassani said. "That is going to back things up."

Consulting company ShipMatrix estimates that shippers can handle around 79 million packages a day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this year, Americans are likely to send about 87 million every day. Meaning that millions packages every day could be delayed.

"There are ways of absorbing some of that additional capacity," Mahmassani said. "But that might mean delays of a day or two and in some instances more, depending on the level of service that you're shipping at."

One thing holiday gifts and vaccines won't be competing much for is cold storage. And Chicago is well situated, thanks, in part, to a massive DHL cold storage facility at O'Hare and extensive preps by airlines, including Chicago-based United.

That airline has also expanded its cargo-only operations since the beginning of the pandemic. Since mid-March, it has completed more than 2,400 cargo-only flights, transporting over 77 million pounds of cargo.

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