Director of Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services attends White House task force meeting on Operation Warp Speed

Operation Warp Speed

President Donald Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force invited a small group of private business, state, and health care leaders to the White House to brief them on Operation Warp Speed, the COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution project started earlier this year. Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, was in attendance.  

The development of the COVID-19 vaccine has been unprecedented in its timely response to an emerging epidemic. Multiple speakers highlighted its inception, progress to date, and ongoing implementation. Operation Warp Speed leaders Dr. Moncef Slaoui and Dr. Gustave Perna discussed how six candidates for development were selected and how the logistics for distribution were implemented based on partnerships within the federal government, state governors, and territorial leaders. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended approval today of the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Pfizer’s vaccine. Official approval from the FDA is still pending.

The vaccine EUA for Moderna will be considered on Dec. 17. Gen. Perna has stated the vaccines will be shipped within 24 hours of approval, and he says it is his hope that citizens will be receiving vaccinations within 96 hours after shipment. 

Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the Center for Biologic Evaluation and Research at the FDA, leads the team studying the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. He stated Tuesday, “And so by doing that hard work, the folks are making sure that when it comes through the process, we’re going to have a vaccine that has efficacy that we can trust, safety we can trust, and quality that we can trust, which is what Americans deserve because all the people working at FDA right now are thinking about this vaccine as if it is one that they want to take.”

Missouri Governor Mike Parson greenlighted the development of the state’s vaccine plan months ago, and more than 30 partners have worked with State of Missouri agencies to develop Missouri’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. If the FDA approves both vaccines, Missouri is scheduled to receive an approximate total of 339,725 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of the year. These doses will be used to vaccinate those in Phase 1A of Missouri’s plan, which includes health care workers and staff of long-term care facilities as well as residents of skilled nursing and intermediate care facilities throughout Missouri through an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Walgreens and CVS pharmacies. 

The program with these chain pharmacies is scheduled to ensue upon immediate shipment of the Pfizer vaccine directly to Walgreens and CVS, which have contracted to use mobile teams to vaccinate residents and staff at the long-term care facilities. Rick Gates, Senior Vice President of Pharmacy & Healthcare of Walgreens, noted, “Over the last five years alone, Walgreens has done about 150,000 off-site clinics to support the communities that we’re in.”  

Additionally, John Roberts of CVS Health pointed out, “We have 50,000 trained immunizers at CVS, and they’re ready to go.”  

Top leaders of UPS and Federal Express were also present at the summit to discuss their role in the vaccines’ shipment, which are transported in special containers designed to maintain the low temperature specifically required for COVID-19 vaccine shipment. As Wes Wheeler, President of UPS Healthcare, stated, “We ship 60 million flu vaccines a year, and we’re very good at this.”  

Richard Smith, Regional President of the Americas for FedEx, stated, “We have the network capabilities connecting 220 countries and territories, 99% of the world’s GDP, and servicing every zip code in the United States of America.”

“We appreciate the White House recognizing Gov. Parson’s team by inviting us to the White House, and it was great to be with colleagues that have made such a great contribution to getting us to a better place,” said Dr. Williams. “To have the President of the United States thank all of us in the room on behalf of our teams back home that have been an integral part of this scientific accomplishment is a great tribute to Missourians. But like any path, we have to follow it to get to where we need to be, and we look forward to working with all of our partners to vaccinate those who request it.”