The briefing yesterday gave the task force a chance to once again urge Americans to heed COVID-19 guidance while also providing an update on vaccines and therapeutics.
The Task Force came as the U.S. is battling an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases. Deaths from the virus recently surpassed 250,000. For the sake of comparison, the flu kills roughly 42,000 each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
1. Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines will be ‘virtually immediate’
The White House Coronavirus Task Force has long promised a swift rollout of COVID-19 vaccines after they win emergency use authorization from the FDA.
Following an FDA decision to grant a vaccine candidate Emergency Use Authorization, vaccine distribution will occur swiftly. “We have a system in place to begin within 24 hours, shipping that vaccine to hospitals, healthcare facilities, and 24 hours after that, literally injecting that vaccine into Americans,” said Vice President Mike Pence.
2. Two COVID-19 vaccine candidates could be almost as effective as the measle vaccine
FDA initially required that COVID-19 vaccines be at least 50% effective. But data from Phase 3 trials suggest that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are about 95% efficacious. “For those of you not acquainted with the field of vaccinology, that is extraordinary,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “That is almost to the level of what we see with [the] measles [vaccine], which is 98% effective.”
3. Fauci spoke up against fight vaccine hesitancy
Vaccine hesitancy was a problem before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the significant public mistrust of vaccines endangers thousands of lives in the U.S.
There has been “some reticence of people,” Fauci said. A segment of the public is concerned that vaccine development had been rushed. “The process [of developing vaccines at record speed] did not compromise at all, safety, nor did it compromise scientific integrity,” Fauci said. “It was a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances in these types of vaccines, which allowed us to do things in months that actually took years before.”
Fauci also stressed that independent data and safety monitoring boards have reviewed COVID-19 clinical trials. He also highlighted the role of the independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee as an FDA advisor for COVID-19-related vaccine decisions.
4. The plan to distribute vaccines will rely heavily on private enterprise
As Vice President Pence said during the briefing, the White House Coronavirus Task Force is using a “federally supported state-managed and locally executed” strategy to fight the pandemic. But when it comes to distributing the vaccine, the plan uses a public-private partnership that draws on the capabilities of private enterprise as well as federal organizations such as CDC.
“We knew if we brought Pfizer, Moderna, McKesson, UPS, FedEx, CVS, Walgreens and hundreds of others together that we would come up with the best solutions,” said General Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.
The task force started by looking at facilities where the public would most likely feel comfortable receiving vaccines — drug stores, doctors’ offices and other healthcare facilities — and worked backward up the supply chain to streamline distribution. “We take the Pfizer vaccine. They are capable of distributing on their own,” Perna said. “They will utilize FedEx and UPS in order to execute distribution.”
Simultaneously, the Department of Health and Human Services will coordinate the shipment of vaccine supply kits, including syringes, alcohol wipes and other supplies needed to administer vaccines. The government has a stockpile of 100 million of such kits.
For the Moderna vaccine, the government plans to sync vaccine and ancillary kit shipments at a distribution warehouse. “We are going to put them together, and then we’re going to distribute through FedEx and UPS down to our administration sites,” Perna said.
“We can distribute the Pfizer vaccine at a minimum of 975 doses, and the Moderna vaccine at a minimum of 100 doses,” he added.
5. The task force also highlighted antibody drugs
While the White House Coronavirus Task Force has underscored the importance of a vaccine since its inception, the recent briefing also highlighted antibody-based drugs. “Last week, we approved Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. “We shipped product that very afternoon to patients,” he added. Already, Lilly has shipped 60,000 courses of therapy to healthcare facilities across the U.S. “And Regeneron’s combination monoclonal antibody is pending at the FDA right now,” Azar said.