Operation Warp Speed Announces Changes to COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Strategy

In a final briefing, OWS recommended states expand vaccination to all individuals 65 and older or those with comorbidities.

In a briefing on Tuesday, Operation Warp Speed (OWS) officials announced several milestones and updates in its campaign for delivering coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to the United States. 

Notably, officials delivered new guidelines to recommend broadening criteria for vaccine eligibility in the next phase to include individuals older than 65 years and those of all ages with comorbidities. 

During the briefing, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, MD, announced that the 38 million total COVID-19 doses delivered to vaccination sites have exceeded the group 1A population, which includes health care workers and senior citizens in long-term care facilities. By the end of the week, an estimated 95% of individuals in long-term care facilities will have been administered first doses of the vaccine.

“Only 4 weeks into our launch, we have gained confidence in the integrity of our distribution system, which is now successfully delivered to over 14,000 locations, essentially, without a hitch,” Azar said.

Officials related an average of 700,000 reported vaccinations each day. OWS is on track to increase the daily average to 1 million in approximately 1 week, according to Azar. More than 9 million first doses have been administered in total in the US.

Taking into account these milestones, OWS is ready to move onto its next phase, which expands the populations eligible to receive the vaccine, “because state restrictions on eligibility have obstructed speed and accessibility of administration,” Azar said. The campaign will also focus on improving the number of access points, notably through pharmacy partners such as CVS, Walgreens, and others, to inoculate as many Americans as possible, particularly those who are 65 years and older, as well as individuals under the age of 65 with comorbidities at this point in COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Indeed, Azar said that, although hospitals served as effective locations early in the pandemic, now that the government is seeking to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines outside of health care professionals and long-term nursing home residents, “states should move on to pharmacies, community health centers, and mass vaccination sites,” he said.

Pharmacies are essential in the OWS COVID-19 vaccination effort, Gen. Gustave Perna said, as they are some of the most accessible health care providers for many Americans. Not only that, but patients are more comfortable getting vaccinated at their local pharmacy, according to Perna.

The government has additionally enlisted 19 pharmacy partners to help tackle administrative tasks related to COVID-19 vaccine distribution, such as scheduling appointments and reporting vaccinations.

OWS will also be tweaking its strategy for deliveries of first doses among states. In order for states to get the most out of their vaccine allocations, the government will base delivery totals on state-reported administration rates in conjunction with their population of citizens that are aged 65 and older. OWS officials hope that the change in plan will incentivize states to more promptly report vaccinations, as well as minimize the number of unused doses. The change will go into effect in about 2 weeks from press time.

Robert R. Redfield, MD, director of the CDC, said during the briefing that now is a critical time to maximize vaccination in the most vulnerable populations; the post-holiday surge is upon us, Redfield said. “We have many jurisdictions now that are on the verge of going from linear growth [in cases] to basically exponential growth.”

“We need to work all together now. It’s going to be a difficult January and probably February,” Redfield said. “But with a vaccine and the new therapeutics, there's really strong light at the end of that tunnel as we enter March. But we need to really commit right now and get as many Americans vaccinated as we can, particularly the most vulnerable.”

The OWS briefing would likely be the last one with the Trump administration team.

Reference

  1. Operation Warp Speed News Conference on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution. C-Span; January 12, 2020. Accessed January 12, 2020. https://www.c-span.org/video/?507916-1/hhs-secretary-azar-announces-covid-19-vaccination-guidelines.