The Army general overseeing COVID-19 response logistics says the first round of vaccines should start arriving at sites across the nation as early as Monday.
“As I speak… vaccines are being packaged with a lot of emphasis on the quality assurance,” Gen. Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, told reporters on Saturday. Perna, the Army’s senior logistician, said shipment of the first 2.9 million doses of the vaccine will begin on Sunday.
Operation Warp Speed, a partnership between federal agencies, military planners, and private corporations to guarantee effective delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine, quickly implemented its distribution plans on Friday evening.
Plans for the distribution of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine went into effect immediately following the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the vaccine on Friday. The authorization was the first approval issued by the U.S. government for a COVID-19 vaccine.
State officials have identified 636 key locations for distribution, Perna said. The first 145 will receive vaccines on Monday, another 425 on Tuesday, and the remaining 66 by Wednesday thanks to strong partnerships with distributors like UPS, FedEx, and McKesson.
The second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine, which is required 21 days after the first, will be held in reserve until demand is evaluated.
As many as 40 million doses of the vaccine could be available by the end of the month, according to Perna.
“The massive logistical planning our military has contributed to Operation Warp Speed gives me even more pride in the talent and dedication of our service members,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller. “They have been crucial in bringing a safe and effective vaccine to the American people and in restoring the health of our country.”
As of Thursday, the Defense Department expected to receive 44,000 initial doses of the vaccine, which would be distributed to 13 sites across the country and three overseas. In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, uniformed and civilian DoD health care workers will receive the vaccine first, followed by critical national security units, troops, preparing for deployments outside the country, and more.
The U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency is collaborating with the Defense Health Agency’s Immunization Health Care Division to collect vaccine orders from all branches of service and submit them to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
USAMMA will also monitor the movements and temperature of vaccine shipments to ensure they are usable upon arrival. The agency is well prepared thanks to experience handling the Army’s current vaccine distribution and cold chain management, according to a DoD press release.
“The military hospitals are already used to working with us, so this made the process smoother for them as they were familiar with our systems and forms,” said Liz Andrews, deputy director of the USAMMA Distribution Operations Center, in a press release.
“We know every day American lives are lost, more fall ill every day, more struggle with the circumstances of the pandemic,” said Perna. “So, while today we applaud everybody who’s been a part of the team, part of the collaboration, part of the success that’s brought us here today, we know we are not done until every American has access to the vaccine.”
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.