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COVID-19 vaccine delivery dry runs taking place across US, General says

Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed (DOD/Released)
November 27, 2020

This article was originally published by the U.S. Department of Defense. 

The chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed discussed how the COVID-19 vaccines will be delivered and administered.

Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna held a press briefing on Operation Warp Speed in Washington, D.C., today.

Once the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the vaccines from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, they will be distributed to any location in America that the state approves as the provider, he said. Officials are now working with each jurisdiction to plan and then figure out allocation within the states.

For each location, however, there’s a minimum delivery requirement of the vaccine, which is 975 doses by Pfizer, and 100 doses by Moderna,” he said.

Letzibeth Mendez-Rivera, a lab manager with the Emerging Infectious Disease Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (DOD/Released)

It’s important to ensure everyone understands the cold storage, distribution, use and administration process for the vaccines, Perna said.

After issuing the initial batch, called the “safety stock,” officials will monitor providers to ensure they’re following the guidelines, he said. Once there is confidence that the process is being followed correctly, more vaccines will be made available to them.

For some time, the Defense Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been working with the jurisdictions on how to run scenarios to actually determine where to put the allocation of vaccines to the best advantage, he said, adding that they are following Food and Drug Administration and Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply guidance during this process.

“I’m very, very confident that we have a solid plan and that we have the ability to observe, watch, monitor, adjust to meet the requirements, as has been specified through the states,” he said.

Alfiya Mityukova, a registered nurse, and Roderick Johnson, a research assistant (DOD/Released)

“We’re working on this constantly. We work rehearsals of different scenarios to make sure we’re capturing all the nuances of the delivery,” he continued. “But each and every week we get stronger. Each week we’re one week closer to distributing the vaccine, we’re one week closer to refining to the exactness that we need to have to do this. And I’m very confident in that process.”

Perna said it was exciting to watch Pfizer and Moderna go through similar processes to make sure that their product is right from the beginning.

Pfizer is implementing a very aggressive approach to figuring out how to get their product out to the administration sites, he said. They’re rehearsing and are running through the actual process of registering products through a jurisdiction. Then they are delivering the product and walking through the administration sites to open boxes and dispense the vaccines. Through this process, they’re capturing lessons learned and putting those in training product back sheets, as well as creating training videos.

There are 54 locations where this training is taking place, he said. As Pfizer has worked with those sites “we see growing confidence in everybody [who is] using it. And that has been the story throughout every rehearsal.”

The Pfizer vaccine has an ultra-cold storage requirement, Perna noted. This is not necessarily a limiting factor though. Pfizer has created a container, which is augmented with dry ice that maintains the vaccine at the appropriate level for up to 20 days.

Moderna is a different case, he said. Their storage requirement is not as cold – about the temperature of a kitchen freezer, which most pharmacies have. It has greater stability in that it can go into this refrigeration for up to 30 days. Therefore, the Moderna variety will make it easier to get to more rural areas.

Collaboration and planning with national chain pharmacies CVS and Walgreens has also been done, Perna said.

“We are well on our way to successfully administering both vaccines to the American people in the near future,” he said.

Perna was joined at the press briefing by Alex M. Azar II, HHS secretary; and, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor for OWS.