“We think we’ve combined the best of both,” the official said. A second senior government official stressed that if one of the vaccines under development is approved in the coming months, the agencies would work as “one team” to distribute hundreds of millions of doses.
Private companies are also likely to join the effort. The first official said the government is bringing in people to integrate CDC IT capabilities with “some new applications we will need that the CDC has never had”.
The background: The Pentagon will not only supervise distribution logistics, but also production and kitting, the process of safely packaging a vaccine with the necessary equipment such as syringes and needles.
“The DoD handles all that logistics – that’s where their comparative advantage is,” said the first senior official. “And the CDC, some of their IT systems, relations with post-vaccination states will be theirs.”
Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters earlier today that distribution would be a “collaborative process” between the private sector and the military.
Operation Warp Speed, the government’s coronavirus vaccine and accelerator, is investigating “how can we take advantage of the private sector’s commercial opportunities to address issues such as distribution, and where will DoD intervene to help manage that process, or as needed,” DoD will have to intervene and actually deliver the items physically, “Hoffman said.
The debate: The comments come just one day after McClatchy reported it neither the White House nor Warp Speed officials had formally asked the Pentagon to help with the vaccine distribution. While the White House said Defense is ready to help, an HHS official told McClatchy on Wednesday that their involvement would be the exception, not the norm.
State and local government groups have already expressed concern on the involvement of the Pentagon and the use of new methods in the dissemination of the coronavirus vaccine. The CDC already “operates and maintains a highly effective vaccine ordering and distribution system,” groups including the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials wrote in June. “With the essence of time, we strongly advise against designing new and untested vaccine distribution systems.”
State and local officials also questioned whether military involvement in the administration of vaccines would undermine the already shaky public confidence in vaccines.
What’s next: Senior health officials have told reporters that they are constantly discussing first-priority populations for receiving potential coronavirus vaccines, including the elderly and the medically vulnerable, but those plans will depend on which candidates are ready first.
Two vaccines have entered the final phase of human trials this month and a few are ready for major phase three. Results are expected later this year or early 2021. Meanwhile, a committee of experts has been convened by the National Academies of Science to discuss a distribution framework.
Lara Seligman and Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.