General Gus Perna, Chief Operating Officer for Operation Warp Speed, called Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine emergency authorization on Friday evening a turning point for the American public and the pandemic and gave the public a glimpse into the massive undertaking that will be required to distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccines each week.
“When the decision occurred last night, we immediately went into action and implemented our hourly, and now, our D-Day sequence,” said Perna, who noted that his comparison to D-Day was to signal the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perna said the U.S. expects the first Pfizer shipments to arrive on Monday morning, and that the distribution process had already begun. “Boxes are being packed and loaded with vaccine, with emphasis on quality control,” said the Operation Warp Speed official.
The Pfizer vaccine will ship in special isothermic boxes, which have been designed to transport between 1,000 and 5,000 vaccines each, at the necessary temperature range for the vaccine: -94F to -112F. The boxes, which are equipped with temperature sensors, minimize the need to secure additional ultra-cold storage options for transportation.
The Associated Press reports that Mount Sinai Hospital System in New York has been preparing for the vaccine by running mock exercises for when the shipments do arrive. In Colorado, reports The Wall Street Journal, some National Guard members have been trained to disperse batches into smaller ultra-cold shipments for rural hospitals, which don’t need the vaccine quantities that come in the more typical bulk shipments.
Perna said on Saturday that the U.S. has 636 locations that will receive shipments across the country, and the first week’s shipments will contain 2.9 million vaccines. The Operation Warp Speed official said 145 sites will receive vaccine shipments on Monday, another 425 sites will receive shipments on Tuesday, and the final 66 sites will receive their vaccines on Wednesday.
Ancillary kits containing needles, syringes, dillutant, and other supplies necessary to begin the first public inoculations have already been distributed to the sites, said Perna.
“We remain agile and adaptive to what the situation brings to us. As we work through many time zones, many areas of concern, we will manage the distribution on a day-to-day process,” said the Operation Warp Speed Official, later adding: “Because of the sheer energy, the whole of America approach, I am absolutely 100% confident that we are going to distribute, safely, this precious commodity, this vaccine, needed to defeat the enemy: COVID.”
The Pfizer vaccine, which was granted emergency use authorization Friday, has been shown to be 95% effective in clinical trials, according to U.S. regulators, and uses mRNA technology like the Moderna vaccine candidate, which is under FDA review.
Perna said officials are also “posturing” to phase in the Moderna vaccine should it also receive emergency authorization. If the Moderna vaccine also receives emergency use authorization by the FDA, the U.S. could have 40 million vaccines available — enough for 20 million people — before the end of the year, with a total of 200 million Moderna and Pfizer vaccine doses available for the American public by the end of March 2021.
The U.S. government, which is still waiting for trial results for other COVID-19 vaccine candidates, announced Friday that they had exercised a contract option with Moderna to supply an additional 100 million doses of its vaccine, should it be approved, before the end of June 2021.
“Securing another 100 million doses from Moderna by June 2021 further expands our supply of doses across the Operation Warp Speed portfolio of vaccines,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a statement Friday afternoon. “This new federal purchase can give Americans even greater confidence we will have enough supply to vaccinate all Americans who want it by the second quarter of 2021.”