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Federal Officials Optimistic on COVID-19 Vaccine Time Line

Kate Traynor

Kate TraynorNews Writer
News Center

During an Oct. 21 media briefing, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced progress on efforts to support the rapid deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that vaccine will be available, though in limited quantities, before the end of 2020,” said Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The briefing focused on Operation Warp Speed, an initiative led by HHS and the Department of Defense to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

Funding from the initiative allows manufacturers to start large-scale production of selected vaccine candidates while clinical trials are underway. Vaccine products that are subsequently licensed or authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration would then be available for immediate administration to targeted populations.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said six vaccine products are being produced under contract through Operation Warp Speed. He said the ultimate goal of federal efforts is that “everyone who wants to be immunized can be.”

Butler said that as part of Operation Warp Speed, HHS has received plans from all 64 U.S. jurisdictions for managing the ordering, distribution, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines. The plans also address how the jurisdictions will identify initial populations to vaccinate, such as frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities, and how the effort will eventually roll out to the general public.

ASHP’s priorities for vaccine rollout are described in the recently released Principles for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution, Allocation, and Mass Immunization.

Federal officials provided additional details about Operation Warp Speed during an Oct. 22 stakeholders’ briefing. Eric Maroyka, senior director of ASHP’s Center on Pharmacy Practice Advancement, provided highlights of the briefing through the COVID-19 Community at ASHP Connect.

According to Maroyka, federal officials have contracted for 800 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and have the option to expand that to 2.61 billion doses. A portion of the vaccine administration kits will contain needles, syringes, alcohol prep pads, vaccination cards, and a limited number of face shields and masks. The kits will not include gloves, bandages, or sharps containers.

McKesson Corp. will receive bulk shipments of COVID-19 vaccine to repackage and distribute to hospitals, pharmacies, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare settings.

Most vaccines are expected to require two doses administered 3–8 weeks apart. Second doses will be held at a central distribution site and released at appropriate intervals.

HHS announced Oct. 16 that long-term care facilities will have the option to obtain COVID-19 vaccine for staff and residents from Walgreens or CVS instead of through McKesson’s distribution network.

During a webinar next week, CDC vaccines task force expert Anita Patel will provide insights into planning considerations for the ordering, distribution, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines. ASHP staff will share an update on resources available related to COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

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