A major winter storm is bearing down on the Northeast, from Virginia to New England, with the potential to snarl distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in the region.
The storm is expected to bring strong winds, more than six inches of snow and blizzard conditions in many areas on Wednesday and Thursday, threatening to hamper highway travel and knock out power, according to the National Weather Service. Some places may get two feet of snow; others may get freezing rain.
The same weather system is also producing snowfalls and slick conditions in parts of the Plains states on Tuesday as it moves eastward and gathers strength, the service said.
Two giant rivals, UPS and FedEx, are working side by side to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine to vaccination sites from Pfizer’s plants in Michigan and Wisconsin. A spokesman for UPS, Matthew O’Connor, said the company had a team of meteorologists monitoring the weather around the clock.
“We develop contingency plans based on weather forecasts and local conditions, enabling our employees to safely deliver what matters most,” Mr. O’Connor said in a statement. “Should roadways or airports be closed, we will observe all closures, and UPS will be ready to deliver as soon as it is safe.”
He added that UPS’s new health care command center, set up at its air hub in Louisville, Ky., was keeping track of the Covid-19 vaccine shipments, which must be kept frozen and require special handling. The command center “can step in with contingency plans should it appear that a package may be delayed,” he said.
Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who heads the operations of Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine distribution effort, told reporters on Monday that officials were ready to deal with any issues that could disrupt smooth deliveries, including wrong delivery addresses and truck or airplane accidents.
“I know you’ve seen the weather report,” General Perna said, noting that the storm “could be a problem.” He continued, “My responsibility to deliver safe and effective vaccines means get ahead of that problem.”
About 600 sites, many of them hospitals, were scheduled to receive the vaccine this week, nearly three million doses in all. Some 500,000 doses were delivered on Monday to 142 of the sites around the country.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference that vaccine delivery and administration would continue despite the weather.
“There’s nothing about the storm at this point that should disrupt the supply of vaccine coming in,” he said.
But the city will close virus testing sites run by the city’s Health and Hospitals system from 2 p.m. on Wednesday to noon on Thursday, said Deanne B. Criswell, the commissioner of emergency management.
Restaurants have already been ordered by the city to close their roadway dining programs at 2 p.m. Wednesday. They were already grappling with the loss of indoor dining this week.
The closure order is temporary, and officials said it could be lifted by Thursday night. But the major snowstorm, expected to sweep into the area on Wednesday afternoon, will pose a significant test for restaurant owners and of how the city’s now-permanent outdoor dining program can withstand severe winter weather.
The city urges restaurants to remove the tops of their outdoor dining structures, but it will not require them to take those structures off the street.