Operation Warp Speed pushing to vaccinate 100M against COVID-19 by end of February

The Trump administration outlined a goal of vaccinating 100 million people with the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of February, which would be enough to reach all healthcare workers and the country’s at-risk population.

Officials with Operation Warp Speed, a joint initiative of the departments of Health and Human Services and Defense (DOD), outlined the latest plans in a call with reporters Wednesday for distributing the initial doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A vaccine could be approved as early as next week.

The initiative, which is coordinating distribution of the initial doses, plans to have 20 million people vaccinated by the end of the year, said Moncef Slaoui, M.D., chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, during the call.

The operation expects to vaccinate 30 million people in January and another 50 million by February as production of vaccines ramps up, Slaoui said.

The first vaccine likely to be approved will be a candidate from Pfizer. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel is expected to review the vaccine Dec. 10, and emergency approval could happen soon after.

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As soon as the emergency use authorization (EUA) is granted, Operation Warp Speed will start to distribute 6.4 million doses to states, cities and several federal agencies such as the DOD, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It is not about getting in front of EUA,” said Gen. Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed’s chief operating officer. “It is just making sure we have everything locked so distribution to American people becomes immediate within 24 hours.”

Perna also gave an update on the initial shipments of Moderna’s vaccine, which an FDA advisory panel will consider Dec. 17.

He said Warp Speed is ready to distribute 12.5 million doses after the EUA is granted.

After the initial push, there will be a continuous flow of vaccines going out to states each week. Slaoui said that more doses could be available once a vaccine being pursued by Johnson & Johnson is approved.

Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines will require two doses for someone to get fully vaccinated. Pfizer’s vaccine requires ultra-cold storage while Moderna’s candidate can be stored in a regular refrigerator.

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Operation Warp Speed is already planning to make sure people are not out of luck if they get the first dose.

“Our responsibility is to make sure that we have both doses in hand before we send the first dose out, that way we are confident the second dose will be available as we administer their shots,” said Perna.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel recommended front-line healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff get the first doses. But states do not have to abide by those recommendations.

Perna said he has been in contact with states and cities that will get the vaccine, and he doesn’t expect they will “go outside” of the panel’s recommendations.