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Tennessee logistics companies play large role in delivering COVID-19 vaccines

Supply Chain Management workers are a vital part of getting COVID-19 vaccines to the right places on time across the nation.

Tennessee plays a big role in getting COVID-19 vaccines shipped across the nation. The brains behind the crucial deliveries make sure the vials get where they need to be on time.

Boxes of vaccines were loaded on trucks and out for delivery in the U.S. over he past week. It's only the beginning of the groundbreaking logistics help.

Companies all across the Volunteer State, including FedEx in Memphis and a new temperature controlled distribution location in Lebanon are now in the spotlight for life-saving deliveries.

"Tennessee's logistics strength is so powerful, and I think you're going to see it come to the fore in a very, very important way," Tennessee Senator-Elect Bill Hagerty told Chattanooga's NBC affiliate.

Chad Autry, UT's Supply Chain Management department head and FedEx Corporation Endowed Professor of Supply Chain agreed with Hagerty, saying he believes SPM workers are always heroes when it comes to deliveries, but the vaccine is a global need.

"For a long time, you know, we've been moving things like you know light bulbs and Christmas ornaments and cottage cheese and things like that, but now we're just moving something that's putting us more in the limelight," Autry said.

The plan for how to get the vials everywhere they need to go wasn't made on a whim. 

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccines: Answering frequently asked questions

"It's been very much planned and very well thought through," Autry said companies like Pfizer started supply chain plans when the vaccine was still in the brainstorming phases.

Every part of the vaccine process, from creation to completion, relies on logistics. Supply chain even focuses on how to get enough vials and refrigerated areas for vaccine transport.

UT grads helped make the success of the first vaccine arrivals happen. Many work for supply chain companies across the country, a couple holding top spots at Amazon and Walmart.

"It's really awesome to think that people that were here in Knoxville at UT just a few years ago are out really making differences in people's lives by getting things where they need to be in time and in the right condition," Autry beamed.

While things are off to a good start, the battle now is to keep the momentum going and think of every possible outcome.

"The proof in the pudding is going to be if we can over time continue to arrange for the capacity that's necessary for the vaccine to flow in different directions," Autry explained.

Autry doesn't anticipate the vaccine shipments to delay any holiday orders.

While there is enough storage and freight to maintain the shipments right now, it all depends on how quickly people line up to get the shot.