(Updated: Nov. 17, 12:20 P.M. EST with statement from medical groups)
President-elect Joe Biden and his aides are warning that the White House’s unwillingness to facilitate the transition to a new administration could create logistics problems that delay distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine and cost thousands of lives.
The inability to meet with current officials could leave gaps in logistics plans, or a longer learning curve, once power is exchanged, for a logistics operation that may be one of the most complex in modern history given the scale involved — inoculating 330 million people, possibly with two dosage rounds — and the urgency to complete vaccinations fast as the death toll approaches a quarter-million in just nine months.
“If we have to wait until Jan. 20 to start that planning, it puts us behind, over a month and a half,” Biden told reporters Monday after a speech on the economy, according to CNBC. “And so, it’s important that it be done, that there be coordination now.”
Biden has made clear his administration will take a more hands-on approach to managing the pandemic on all fronts, including mobilizing more Defense Department logistics resources and invoking the Defense Production Act to produce face masks, shields and other protective equipment to alleviate hospital shortages.
“It’s great to have a vaccine, but vaccines don’t save lives; vaccinations save lives,” Ron Klain, Biden’s choice for chief of staff, said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “And that means you’ve got to get that vaccine into people’s arms all over this country. It’s a giant logistical project.”
Klain, who previously served as then-Vice President Biden’s chief of staff and was the Obama administration’s Ebola pandemic czar, said Biden scientific advisers will meet with officials at Pfizer and other vaccine makers this week.
On Tuesday, major hospital, medial and nurses associations issued a plea to the Trump administration to work closely with the Biden transition and share all critical information related to COVID-19.
“Real-time data and information on the supply of therapeutics, testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, hospital bed capacity and workforce availability to plan for further deployment of the nation’s assets needs to be shared to save countless lives. All information about the capacity of the Strategic National Stockpile, the assets from Operation Warp Speed, and plans for dissemination of therapeutics and vaccines needs to be shared as quickly as possible to ensure that there is continuity in strategic planning so that there is no lapse in our ability to care for patients,” they said in a joint statement.
Pfizer and Moderna are already producing vaccines they say show more than 90% efficacy in preventing infections and could be green-lighted for use within weeks. Under the government’s plan, initial releases of vaccine are to be targeted at health care workers, emergency responders and nursing homes.
Operation Warp Speed, a partnership between the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, is engaging with private firms and other agencies to coordinate manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. HHS has outsourced distribution to health care wholesaler McKesson Corp. Pfizer will ship its ultra-cold vaccine, which requires extremely specialized handling, to states on its own, while sharing tracking data with the government.
The federal government has contracted for 100 million COVID vaccine doses each from Pfizer and Moderna, representing a small amount of the total requirement. It will have enough vaccine for 20 million people in the month of December, with the hope that everyone who wants can get vaccinated by the end of spring, officials say. The government has also secured 300 million doses from British drugmaker AstraZeneca once it passes clinical trials and is approved.
But Dr. Kavita Patel, a former health policy adviser to the Obama White House and current nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, said on MSNBC Monday that Congress has not provided states funding to get the vaccine distributed, suggesting that without money the federal vaccine pipeline will stall after deliveries are made to states.
“We’ve pre-purchased doses, but if it doesn’t get into Americans’ arms then this won’t end [the pandemic],” she said.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who oversees the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine program, told CNBC on Monday he hopes its work to fast-track development is not interrupted by a transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden.
During a FreightWaves conference in May, Klain explained how supply chain management is the key ingredient to a successful vaccination campaign and lamented the lack of national coordination in allocating medical supplies to states.