Government Describes Plan to Distribute
COVID-19 Vaccine

Ralph Ellis

September 17, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The federal government has released information about how it plans to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine one it's approved by the FDA.

During a Wednesday news briefing, federal officials said they hope to make the vaccine free of charge and available within 24 hours of approval. Health care workers and other essential workers will probably be the first to get the vaccine, which will initially be released in small quantities.

But they admitted many questions remain about the vaccine — such as which ones will be approved.

"We're dealing in a world of great uncertainty," Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the US Department of Health Human Services, said during the briefing with reporters, according to CNN. "We don't know the timing of when we'll have a vaccine. We don't know the quantities. We don't know the efficacy of those vaccines." 

The administration has published two documents about vaccine distribution on government websites.  

Health and Human Services posted an 11-page distribution strategy titled "From the Factory to the Frontlines: The Operation Warp Speed Strategy for Distributing a COVID-19 Vaccine." 

The CDC posted the 57-page "COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations."

The distribution strategy repeated what administration officials have been saying publicly for weeks: Limited vaccine doses "may" be available as early as November and that the supply will increase "substantially" in 2021. 

Several vaccines are now going through clinical trials under Operation Warp Speed, the administration's program to fast-track vaccines. It's unknown when any will obtain FDA approval or emergency use authorization.

A logistical challenge is that some of the vaccines will require below-freezing temperatures for transport and storage, the documents said. Other vaccines will be given in two doses separated by 21 or 28 days.

A massive information campaign will be needed to educate the public about where and when they can obtain the vaccine.

"Identifying the right messages to promote vaccine confidence, countering misinformation, and targeting outreach to vulnerable and at-risk populations will be necessary to achieve high coverage," the distribution strategy says. "CDC will build on its existing relationships with local public health partners and health departments to effectively implement communications, and CDC is also working to develop innovative approaches to improve vaccine uptake among hard-to-reach critical populations."

One of the challenges for distribution is the cooperation required among multiple agencies and jurisdictions, including the CDC, the HHS, the Department of Defense and various state, local, and tribal governments.

On the subject of costs, the distribution strategy says one of the administration "tasks" is "Delivery of vaccine to sites, with the goal of no upfront costs to providers and no out-of-pocket cost to the vaccine recipient."

"In terms of a principle and an aspiration, it'll be that no American has to pay a single dime out of pocket to get a vaccine," Mango said Wednesday, according to CNN. "And we're getting very close to that aspiration right now."


CNN. "Federal government details plans to distribute free Covid-19 vaccines"

HHS. "From the Factory to the Frontlines The Operation Warp Speed Strategy for Distributing a COVID-19 Vaccine"

CDC. "COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations"