The Trump administration insisted on Wednesday that federal officials, including members of the military, will not have a direct role in delivering COVID-19 vaccines or injecting them into Americans when one is approved for distribution.
Top officials working on “Operation Warp Speed,” the federal program to speed up the discovery, manufacturing and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to clear up what they admitted was confusion regarding the U.S. military’s role in securing a vaccine supply and helping get it out to the public.
Earlier this summer, President Donald Trump said the military had been “mobilized” to distribute the eventual vaccine in a similar role to their deployment in the spring, when thousands of National Guard and active duty forces fanned out across the United States to establish field hospitals and testing sites.
“I know there’s been a lot of confusion about what the role of the Department of Defense will be,” said one of the three senior administration officials on the call with reporters.
“For the overwhelming majority of Americans, there will be no federal official who touches any of the vaccine before it’s injected into Americans,” the official said. “So again, for the overwhelming majority of Americans, no federal official will touch a dose of vaccine before it is injected into Americans.”
McKesson Corporation was awarded a government contract in August to be the central distributor of the vaccine to point-of-care locations, like pharmacies. It will use delivery systems such as the United Parcel Service or Federal Express to move the doses across the country, the officials said.
“All of these companies will be intimately involved” in moving the vaccines, one official said.
The military will have a substantial role, the officials said, but it will be in the critical behind-the-scenes effort to make sure that once vaccine lines are started and injections begin, the half-dozen types of vaccines under development today do not get mixed up, leading a patient to receive the wrong medicine.
“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty” one of the officials said. The different lines of vaccine have different storage and transport requirements, because some vaccines require two doses.
“For the two dose ones, they’re either 21 days apart or 28 days apart. They all have different demands for gauge needles and different size syringes and so forth. So this is a really quite extraordinary, logistically complex undertaking and a lot of uncertainties right now,” the official said.
Three vaccine candidates produced by Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca are currently in advanced human trials in the United States, and other vaccine candidates are in earlier stages of development.
To protect consumers, the Defense Department is creating a data link to help state immunization tracking systems connect to private network databases, such as prescription systems in a Walgreens or CVS.
“What we’re in the process of doing is being able to help allow those different databases to talk with one another through a data link that we’re developing and testing as we speak,” the official said.
The Defense Department is also working to ensure the supplies required for vaccinations, such as syringes, are fully stocked, and that the supply lines for the raw materials are traceable and secure.