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First air shipment of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine departs from Gerald R. Ford International Airport

FedEx plane carrying Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from Portage plant takes off at Gerald R. Ford International Airport December-13-2020 FOX 17 Brian Farber
Posted at 4:26 PM, Dec 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 02:19:05-05

CASCADE, Mich. — The country’s first COVID-19 vaccination is now en route to more than 600 hundred facilities across the country.

With West Michigan’s own Gerald R. Ford International Airport playing a key role in that process.

It was a historic moment for not only Michigan but the country.

SEE MORE: First shipments of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine roll out from Portage plant

The Pfizer vaccine is being manufactured in Portage, and Gerald R. Ford is now serving as a hub for distribution across the United States.

It’s the cargo the country has been waiting for.

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“This is a big day for all of humanity,” said Stephen Clark, director of commercial development, Ford airport. “This is probably the most important air cargo ship that has ever left this airport and probably any airport that we could think of.”

SEE MORE: PHOTOS: Pfizer ships COVID-19 vaccine out of Portage and Ford airport

Airport officials — alongside FedEx — are overseeing what’s the most precious delivery, with Pfizer’s first shipment containing 2.9 million doses of its vaccine, packed with dry ice and thermal sensors to keep the vaccines ultra cold.

“They are going to make sure that every box is ticked,” Clark said. “Every box is locked just to make sure that this goes off without a hitch.”

U.S. marshals secured the area, with unauthorized personnel behind the gated tarmac.

To Vicky Royce and Ron Royce from Jenison, the cargo represents the possibility of seeing family once again.

“This is exciting,” Vicky Royce said. “This is momentous. This is man-on-the-moon stuff. This virus, this vaccine is going to help so many people. I get to spend time with my dad again at the facility instead of doing window visits with him.

“I haven’t been able to sit in my dad’s room and just watch TV with him. Or anything like this. So this is going to be so great to spend time with him in his room.”

SEE MORE: With historic shipments underway, the question remains: Will you get the COVID-19 vaccine?

To the airport, it’s a chance to show the world its capable of handling this critical responsibility.

“Obviously, it will take a lot of extra care,” said Tory Richardson, president and CEO, Ford airport. “And it has. And that’s what we are going to demonstrate today. Get it through here, get it through efficiently and to the place it needs to be in people’s arms and bodies, so that we can help fight this COVID-19 pandemic.”

Richardson knows this is the first milestone, with more to come alongside expected obstacles.

“We know that in the weeks ahead, the days and weeks ahead, that we will likely have snow events,” Richardson said. “Ice and things like that will make it more difficult for us to operate.”

SEE MORE: BLOG: Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from Portage departs Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Those who played a hand and those nearby are recognizing this flight as a step closer to the end of the pandemic.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime,” Ron Royce said. “It’s an unfortunate once-in-a-lifetime, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime — that we have this coming going out right now. So this is real cool.”

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Pfizer has said that its goal is to distribute 25-million doses of its vaccine by the end of the year.

The airport said it will continue to go to great lengths to make sure everything goes smoothly so as to not jeopardize this process.

They expect international airlines to pick up doses in Grand Rapids, and planes with the vaccines will have FAA priority.