Whole-of-America Approach: How Operation Warp Speed Allocated 20 Million Vaccine Doses in 2020

Feb 22, 2021 | Defense Transportation Journal, DTJ Online

As 2020 came to a close, Operation Warp Speed (OWS) leaders looked back on their nearly eight-month-old mission and tallied some of the milestones on the journey to get America past the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m incredibly proud of what we have accomplished to date—something like this has never been done before,” said Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer GEN Gus Perna, USA. “The achievement is America’s. Our strategy all along has been a whole-of-America approach—and we have seen so many dedicated professionals work tirelessly in support of this effort.”

Operation Warp Speed stood up in May as a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

With just 100 people assigned full-time to the operation, the team took shape through five primary branches: vaccine development; therapeutics development; supply, production, and distribution; plans, operations and analysis; and security and assurance. Operation Warp Speed stood up a Vaccine Operations Center in HHS headquarters, where the majority of the team is located, to monitor the operation from end-to-end. A separate Vaccine Coordination Center in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta links regional planning teams to the jurisdictions—states, territories, and major metropolitan cities—they support.

As the year closed out, two vaccines and three therapeutics received Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). More than 20 million doses of vaccines were allocated to jurisdictions and more than 14 million were delivered across states, territories, and to five federal entities. Additionally, more than 500,000 courses of monoclonal antibody treatments and more than 400,000 units of COVID-19 convalescent plasma were delivered throughout the country.

“I want to join General Perna in thanking and acknowledging the work of tens of thousands of people in the development, manufacture, supply, and administration of the vaccine,” said Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Chief Science Advisor to Operation Warp Speed.

GEN Gustave F. Perna, USA, Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed, monitors a simulation exercise in Operation Warp Speed Headquarters in Washington, DC. DOD photo by EJ Hersom/Released.

Operation Warp Speed selected six promising vaccine candidates and supported the manufacturing of those products in parallel—assuming the financial risk—while research was ongoing to determine the safety and efficacy of each contender.

“When this operation stood up, there was no domestic capacity to manufacture vaccines at broad scale,” Perna said.

The operation boosted manufacturing through Technology Investment Agreements—a US Army Corps of Engineers program that expanded capacity and built out facilities to manufacture vaccines and vials. It embedded Army logistics officers, who became known as the “iron majors,” to support the manufacturers. The logistics professionals identified challenges, recommended solutions, and kept in close contact with Operation Warp Speed headquarters for reach-back support.

Additionally, 18 companies received priority ratings under the Defense Production Act, boosting their precedence when it came to securing the important supplies and components needed to manufacture their products and helping to expand domestic manufacturing capacity for vaccines and therapeutics.

“This essentially puts them at the front of the line,” Perna said.

Since manufacture of the vaccines began while clinical trials were ongoing, by the time the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in December for Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines, several million doses of the drugs were ready for shipment. Both EUAs were granted on Friday evenings, and by the following Mondays, vaccines began arriving at administration sites across the country.

For months, Operation Warp Speed regional planning teams worked hand-in-hand with the CDC to assist their planning efforts for vaccine administration. While initial uptake appeared slow, Perna suggested that a lag in reporting, major winter holidays, and the newness of the vaccines and the administration process were likely behind the apparently slow start.

US Air Force Lt Col Nest Cage walks past a motivation poster inside Operation Warp Speed Headquarters in Washington, DC. DOD photo by EJ Hersom/Released.

“I believe we will see many more shots going into arms after the first of the year,” Perna said.

A newly developed partnership with CVS and Walgreens will take the vaccine to long-term care facilities to vaccinate their residents. Another new program with 19 retail pharmacy chains will ultimately see the vaccines at locations where people are accustomed to receiving their flu shots.

The partnership covers about 60 percent of pharmacies throughout the nation and includes grocery stores, big box stores, and wholesale clubs.

“Most Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy,” Perna noted. “This deal will ensure easy access for most people.”

Operation Warp Speed also arranged the necessary supplies associated with vaccine administration. Along with vaccine shipments, administration sites are also receiving alcohol swabs, needles, and syringes. To protect the cold-chain requirements for vaccine, Operation Warp Speed is also supplying dry ice.

“We’ve cut through the red tape on several fronts so everyone can focus on what they do best,” Perna said.

With two vaccines now moving and the expectation that others will be approved, Perna said the mission has established a cadence that should provide predictability and a sustainable tempo moving forward.

“We started this process from scratch and we are learning at every step,” Perna said. “We took the best minds in science, a tested vaccination infrastructure, and the best of American industry to answer this unprecedented call to save lives and help the nation move past this pandemic.”

By Lisa Simunaci , Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

NDTA Members in Action

FedEx Express Provides Critical Support for Operation Warp Speed

Time-definite express transportation of critical shipments is exactly what our FedEx Express air-ground network was built to do when it launched in 1973. This effort will be among the most important work in the history of our company. All of us at FedEx are immensely proud to be a part of these historic deliveries.

On Resources
FedEx Express has the largest cargo fleet of airplanes in the world. FedEx Express also has the flexibility and customized solutions, including charter flights, refrigerator trucks and trailers, warehousing, thermal blankets, ultra-cold freezers, and temperature-controlled containers, to help safely move temperature-sensitive shipments, such as vaccines and other bioscience shipments, around the world. Most importantly, FedEx has the ability to ship to every ZIP code in the United States. We have been planning for months and are prepared to handle the transportation of vaccines as they are approved for use.

Our Technology
At FedEx, the information about the package is as important as the package itself as it moves through the network. FedEx SenseAware ID, a Bluetooth low-energy sensor device, will be affixed to vaccine shipments, helping to ensure these temperature-sensitive deliveries move swiftly and safely through the FedEx Express US network with FedEx Priority Overnight service. From origin to destination, dedicated FedEx Priority Alert customer support agents are using SenseAware monitoring technology to track the location of vaccine shipments in near real-time. This technology is complemented by the FedEx Surround platform, which leverages artificial intelligence and predictive tools to proactively monitor conditions surrounding the packages, allowing customer support agents to intervene if weather or traffic delays threaten to impede delivery times. Additionally, there has been education, special communications, and some training for these shipments. As we ship COVID-19 vaccines, we are continuously working with our team members to ensure we are properly prepared to handle the packages from point of pick-up until they are delivered to their final destinations.

Our Distinct Networks
We have two networks for parcel delivery in North America: FedEx Express, with time-definite and cold chain capabilities that serves a majority of our healthcare customers and is shipping vaccines, as well as FedEx Ground, our ground network that predominantly handles e-commerce shipments, including the surge of e-commerce shipments during our holiday peak effort. The distinction means that each has the dedicated resources they need to safely deliver the best possible service. Courtesy FedEx Global Public Affairs.

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