Operation Warp Speed discusses next steps for COVID-19 vaccine distribution


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – With two vaccine trials producing promising results, Operation Warp Speed leaders laid out early-stage plans Wednesday for the distribution of the vaccines should the FDA approve the vaccines soon.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says they hope to be sending out 40 million vaccine doses, which includes boosters used at a later date, by the end of December. Azar said 20 million doses will go to “those most vulnerable Americans” first. Who exactly fits under the umbrella was not elaborated on.

General Gustave Perna, the Chief Operations Officer with Operation Warp Speed says no matter where you live, vaccine distribution will be fair and equitable. Adding that distribution will be simultaneous to all corners of the United States based on population and vaccine availability.

“We have been working these numbers with the states for a little while. Every week that goes by we are able to create a tighter shot group of the actual numbers and allocations that will be available,” said General Perna.

The first wave of 40 million doses will go quick. Warp Speed expects weekly deliveries as vaccines become available.

“So, there’s an initial push, then a continuous cadence of delivery of vaccine to ensure we rapidly expand the availability to the entire country simultaneously,” said General Gustave about the first vaccine distribution. General Perna added that vaccine will be distributed to the 64 designated jurisdictions likely on a week-to-week basis as vaccines are produced.

The 64 jurisdictions are states, large cities and U.S. territories. At the core, the federal government and the vaccine creators will help with shipment to the jurisdictions while jurisdictions themselves will be responsible for storage and getting the vaccine out along with data collection.

“We’ve been working closely with those jurisdictions as they draw up their plans for where vaccines need to be shipped and how it will be administered. Which they’ve already submitted to the CDC and received feedback from,” said Secretary Azar.

States will have to have a system in place to track who gets what vaccine and when because that information will be vital when people start getting their booster shots. For example, if you get a Pfizer vaccine, you need to make sure you get a Pfizer booster.

Another concern looming for Operation Warp Speed is refrigeration. However, in the press briefing, leaders said they were not concerned about keeping the vaccines at proper temperatures. Saying when they arrive at a state, they go directly to cooled storage likely at a pharmacy, hospital or university. Eventually, when they are taken out for use, operation leaders say the vaccines will be used quickly ahead of any climate-related expirations.

Dry ice will be used during transport. Warp Speed leaders say they’ve been in contact with dry ice producers to meet demand. Vaccine producers are also working on methods to properly retain proper cooling temperatures upon delivery.

The current projections for vaccine distribution collides with a the presidential transfer of power. Operation Warp Speed does not expect any impacts to their mission. Meaning, most of the top decision makers are not expected to leave the project, outside of Secretary Alex Azar.

“With over 1,000 people perishing per day, our mission at Operation Warp Speed is about saving lives. Every hour, every day matters. We are going to work to minimize any type of delay there,” said Azar.

More briefings on the distribution will be held as we get closer to FDA vaccine approval.

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