Health secretary Alex Azar said the Operation Warp Speed team is coordinating with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team in preparation to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine, in a press call earlier today.
A vaccine has not yet been approved, but manufacturing has taken place throughout the pandemic, so in the event one or more is approved a vaccine could be immediately distributed.
The national Covid-19 vaccination campaign is expected to be a historically complex effort, initially involving a vaccine from Pfizer that requires ultra-cold storage at -70C (-94F). In addition, officials will need to win back the trust of the public battered by four years of political, anti-science rhetoric.
Pfizer’s research was not funded by Operation Warp Speed but has become the first company to request emergency authorization for its coronavirus vaccine in the US, developed with pharmaceutical partner BioNTech.
“Our top career official Rear Admiral [Erica] Schwartz was last night communicating with the Biden transition team,” Azar said, referring to the deputy surgeon general. “We are immediately getting them all the pre-prepared transition materials.”
Azar said the effort would take place “in the best spirit of looking out for the health and well-being of the American people.”
The transition has been delayed for weeks because of Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election to Biden, who has been called as the winner. The administration was the target of increasing criticism, as Covid-19 infection and hospitalization rates have soared.
The move to allow the transition comes immediately before the Thanksgiving holiday, which many health experts expect to be a super-spreader event.
In addition, General Gustave Perna, the head of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine distribution program, said the first vaccine delivery to states would be of 6.4 million vaccine doses if the US Food and Drug Administration grants emergency approval. After that, shipments would go out weekly to states on a per capita basis.
Perna also said the administration still expects to deliver 40 million doses before the end of the year. Perna said he expects the vaccine will be administered “within 24 hours” of emergency use authorization, a faster process than full approval.
Contrary to Perna’s comments, some experts have said it could take longer than one day to begin administering the vaccine, because the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must finalize its prioritization system before distribution.
Americans should expect a “steady drumbeat of sending allocations to the jurisdictions every week,” said Perna. Nevertheless, vaccine demand is expected to far exceed vaccine supply in the early months.