Feds Unveil Plan to Distribute Free Coronavirus Vaccine

A volunteer is injected with a potential Covid-19 vaccine during a trial in London last month. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

(CN) — As the weekly average of new coronavirus cases rises in the U.S., federal health officials revealed a plan Wednesday to roll out free vaccine doses to all Americans who want one.

Two documents outlining the Trump administration’s strategy for delivering doses to Americans were submitted to Congress by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services and Defense Department. They include a distribution overview and a playbook to guide states and cities.  

Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have millions of doses ready to ship once a vaccine is given the OK by the Food and Drug Administration, has several potential vaccines in its toolbelt.

“As part of Operation Warp Speed, we have been laying the groundwork for months to distribute and administer a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it meets FDA’s gold standard,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

The strategic overview presented by the agencies says available vaccines will be distributed immediately after a formulation is granted an emergency use authorization. Per a contract awarded by the U.S. government in August, McKesson Corporation has the option to help support distribution when the time comes.

“There are many unknowns and unanswered questions at this time. For example, it is not yet known which vaccines will be available, in what volumes, at what time, with what efficacy, and with what storage and handling requirements,” the playbook states, urging cities and states to look to past vaccination response plans for help.

Officials say the approved vaccine will be free, clarifying patients will not be charged out-of-pocket for receiving the shot.

Data from a Johns Hopkins University tracker shows Covid-19 cases are still on an upward trend in the U.S. There are over 6.6 million confirmed cases and more than 196,000 Americans have died from the respiratory disease.

“CDC is drawing on its years of planning and cooperation with state and local public health partners to ensure a safe, effective, and life-saving Covid-19 vaccine is ready to be distributed following FDA approval,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement on Wednesday. “Through the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, CDC will play a vital role in deciding, based on input from experts and stakeholders, how initial, limited vaccine doses will be allocated and distributed while reliably producing more than 100 million doses by January 2021.”

Many vaccine candidates, including a formulation produced by the biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer, are undergoing final trials.

“This in-depth, round-the-clock planning work with our state and local partners and trusted community organizations, especially through CDC, will ensure that Americans can receive a safe and effective vaccine in record time,” Azar added.

The government’s goal is to have enough Covid-19 vaccine doses available for everyone in the U.S. who wants to be vaccinated.

But some Americans may be reluctant to sign up for whichever vaccine makes the cut. A Gallup poll released last month found that 35% of respondents said they would choose not to receive a free, FDA-approved vaccine. Notably, responses were divided along party lines – over 80% of Democrats said they would be willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine today if they could, while only 47% of Republicans said the same.

An Associated Press poll from May similarly showed that one in five Americans said they would refuse a coronavirus vaccine.

These findings came before a rise in speculation that some officials are trying to rush Covid-19 treatments and vaccines in order to boost President Donald Trump’s chances in the November election.

“Americans should know that the vaccine development process is being driven completely by science and the data,” Azar said Wednesday.

In a speech from Wilmington, Delaware on Wednesday afternoon, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told Americans they are headed into a “very dangerous Autumn.”

Even if a vaccine is approved, Biden said, it will probably not be available for most people until 2021. And it will take months to distribute once we have it, he added.

“One thing is certain, we can’t allow politics to interfere with a vaccine in any way,” the former vice president said.

He urged health officials to be transparent about the decisions surrounding potential vaccines and when and why they are approved.

“I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump,” he said, vowing to “follow the science.”

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