‘Unclear Whether HHS Is Ready To Assume All Responsibilities’ Of COVID Vax-Related Work, GAO Report Says
A doctor in medical protective gloves takes a medicine or vaccine from a glass ampoule into a syringe. concept of treatment and prevention of spread of covid-19 infection, virus and pneumonia.
Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Wednesday stated that it’s unsure if the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is ready to completely take over COVID-19 vaccine-related work.

Since the launch of Operation Warp Speed by the Trump administration in 2020, HHS has partnered with the Department of Defense (DOD) to oversee the development, manufacturing, and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. The joint effort of both departments was called the Countermeasures Acceleration Group (CAG). At the beginning of this year, HHS took over sole responsibility for the work.

According to the GAO, HHS has “assessed its workforce capabilities” but has yet to address “the loss of DOD officials with specialized skills.”

“While HHS and DOD officials said they achieved transition milestones indicating that HHS is ready to assume responsibilities formerly led by DOD, it is unclear how HHS will address its workforce needs now that the CAG has dissolved,” the report read. “Specifically, GAO found that HHS has assessed its workforce capabilities, but lacks strategies for addressing these workforce needs.”

The GAO report recommended that the DOD continue to aid HHS in its responsibilities. It also recommended that HHS create a better schedule to plan for actions and prepare for delays. 

“By formally providing its support until HHS develops and implements these strategies, DOD can help ensure that HHS can continue these responsibilities uninterrupted, including responsibilities for addressing ongoing vaccine needs for boosters or for any emerging COVID-19 variants,” GAO said. “Moreover, HHS does not have a schedule that is consistent with best practices to help it manage remaining vaccine-related activities. Such a schedule could help HHS better plan actions and mitigate delays, and be a source for identifying lessons learned for any future pandemics.”

The report also recommended that HHS expand the lessons-learned review started by the CAG and add input from “external stakeholders,” such as vaccine companies and other government agencies. 

Last year, HHS was the center of controversy after being accused of downplaying COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant children. In July, whistleblowers alleged HHS members of minimizing the COVID-19 outbreak at children’s migrant shelters. 

The Daily Wire reported on the whistleblower complaints which stated, “At a ‘town hall’ meeting with detailees, a senior U.S. Public Health Service manager was asked and refused to say how many were infected because ‘if that graph [of infections] is going to The Washington Post every day, it’s the only thing we’ll be dealing with and politics will take over, perception will take over, and we’re about reality, not perception.’ All the manager would acknowledge is that several children had to be hospitalized. The manager also dismissed a detailee’s concern that the children in the COVID tents were wearing basic disposable masks instead of N95 masks. The manager said N95 masks were unnecessary for the infected – even though uninfected detailees were working with the infected children.”

The GAO report on HHS capabilities to oversee vaccine distribution comes as the CEOs of both Pfizer and Moderna push for a fourth booster shot for the Omicron variant. 

“Omicron is a way more challenging target, so the two doses are not enough for Omicron,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said last week. “The third dose of the current vaccine is providing good protection against death and decent protection against hospitalization. So, most of the people that they are ending up in hospital [with Omicron] aren’t vaccinated. They are not people that they had the vaccine.”