COVID-19 Town Hall: Operation Warp Speed COVID-19 Vaccine DistributionDecember 1, 2020
As clinical trials continue for the COVID-19 vaccine, Operation Warp Speed (OWS) is working to develop methods of delivering the vaccine to more than 300 million Americans. Marion Whicker, who normally serves as an executive director with the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) – is on loan to Operation Warp Speed where she is applying her expertise in moving military machinery to delivering COVID-19 vaccines across the nation. Whicker, who oversees TACOM’s Integrated Logistics Support Center in Warren, Michigan – is now working as Operation Warp Speed’s deputy chief of supply, production, and distribution where she is among the senior logisticians coordinating a herculean effort.
Whicker joined Tammy Carnrike, chief operation officer for the Detroit Regional Chamber to discuss her role in the planning efforts to move an approved vaccine around the country and the current status of distribution.
About Operation Warp Speed
Operation Warp Speed is the U.S. Government effort to bring 300 million doses of effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines to the U.S. public. It is a partnership among components of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and the Department of Defense (DoD).
Through the efforts of OWS, the vaccine process that normally takes roughly 84 months has been distilled down to happen in less than a year. By creating a process where components are parallel instead of sequential, the COVID-19 vaccine process has been able to happen at a faster rate, while still maintaining a focus on safety and effectiveness.
OWS’s support falls into three main categories:
- Development: supporting the clinical trials with set up, facilities, equipment, etc.
- Manufacturing: developing a manufacturing process as well as investing in manufacturing capacity.
- Distribution: developing a plan for delivering a safe and effective product by expanding the CDC distribution network.
The Biggest Challenge
Vaccine hesitancy and adoption will be the biggest challenge once the vaccine is cleared for distribution.
“We are going to ask the American people to have a big trust in what we are doing here, but what you do with a vaccine is going to be a personal choice,” said Whicker. “Our goal at Warp Speed is to get the information out so people can make informed decisions.”
Currently, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent body of medical professionals, is meeting to determine who should be the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine once one is authorized.
There are two parts to a vaccine getting approved:
- Emergency authorization for use from the FDA.
- ACIP recommendation on to whom the vaccine should be administered first and around whom the distribution strategy should be built.
“Today’s ACIP meeting will decide who it goes to first. If you think about the health care workers and being the most prone, there is certainly a school of thought that they could and should go first, as well as the first responders,” said Whicker.
Rates of Production
The U.S. government invested in six different vaccines to get them quickly to the American public. Currently both Pfizer and Moderna have filed for emergency use authorization. If approved, each vaccine would provide 20 million doses a month. Of the other four, two are in clinical stage three and two are preparing for clinical stage three.
Logistics of Distribution
Following FDA approval and ACIP’s recommendations, OWS will begin pushing vaccines to designated sites throughout the country. The state of Michigan alone is set to get about 600-700,00 doses. Once distributed to the state, the Governor and state health officers will then work on distribution in accordance with their own plan and ACIP prioritization.
“While vaccine isn’t as plentiful, we will push it to places that have been designated by the state,” said Whicker. “As it becomes more plentiful it will become more local and broader.”
It is important note that the COVID-19 vaccinations require two doses and you must get the same vaccine for both doses:
- Pfizer: first dose and then second dose 21 days later.
- Moderna: first dose and then second dose 28 days later.
Along with the vaccine, OWS plans to provide ancillary kits with each dose including needles, syringes, face masks, wipes, etc. In addition, there will be a vaccine registration card that informs when an individual is due for the second dose.
The state of Michigan is taking it one step further by working on a mechanism within the immunization information system that would provide text reminders of when an individual is due for the second dose, however, immunization is not required.
“Under emergency use authorization military and health care providers can not be required to take the vaccine. So, while it’s under emergency use, you will not see vaccination mandates,” said Whicker.
Return to Normal
The country returning to a semblance of normalcy is dependent upon how quickly the vaccine gets distributed and how many get the vaccine. Whicker anticipates that by April or May anyone who wants to receive the vaccine should be able to get it, though getting back to normal is going to be relative since not everyone will choose to get it.