Inside Look: United, O'Hare play pivotal role in distributing coronavirus vaccine

United Airlines is helping distribute millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine and O’Hare International Airport is playing a pivotal role in the massive vaccine distribution effort.

"It’s really, really amazing to think that just me doing my every day job is playing some role in this crazy global crisis," said Kate Harbin.

Harbin is among a team of United cargo specialists who’ve been planning for this moment for months.

"It’s no easy task. There’s many hours, many team members that come together to make sure we can move these vaccines without any issues at all," said United Cargo Manager Jim Riordan.

Because of O’Hare’s international connections and the size of United’s cargo facility, this has become a key distribution point for the vaccine.

United’s massive O’Hare cargo facility has several special rooms that can hold vaccines that need to be kept at very specific temperatures.

"There’s so many different requirements for each vaccine," Harbin said.

The vaccines are actually shipped in specialized containers that are also temperature-controlled.

"They look so big and they are big. But they can fit underneath the seats of a triple-seven aircraft," Harbin said.


A 787 arrived from Tokyo as a cargo-only flight with no passengers -- something United has been doing to keep its fleet in the air during the pandemic.

"So as soon as the vaccines come off the airplane, they go right through the warehouse, right out to a waiting truck and out to the folks who need them," Riordan said. "This is really the pinnacle of my career to be part of this effort to get this medicine out to the world that needs to have these vaccines."

"I think it gives new meaning to my every day work and I am privileged to play a part in it to do what I can," Harbin said.