By Former Congressman John Faso |
There is encouraging news on the development of vaccines to beat the coronavirus.
No fewer than four vaccine candidates are in advanced clinical trials. Major pharmaceutical companies such as Astra Zeneca and Moderna are working round the clock to bring an effective vaccine to market.
However, the amazing work of thousands of researchers and scientists will appear easy compared to the difficulty in deploying effective vaccinations for over 300 million Americans. Given the early stumbles by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on testing and recurring issues with securing critical protective and test kit supplies, many will correctly question whether the federal and state governments are up to the task of vaccine distribution.
The federal government paid billions to these companies to advance this critical research and senior officials believe that, contingent upon Food and Drug Administration approvals, a vaccine will be widely available for distribution by early next year.
The “Operation Warp Speed” initiative of the Trump administration is key to advancing vaccine development with unprecedented alacrity. Never have vaccine candidates moved this quickly from conceptual development into clinical trials. But we have never had a modern pandemic with such devastating consequences; we have seen over one million fatalities and worldwide economic disruption.
Critics of the “Operation Warp Speed” initiative have not said how they would have conducted this process differently and ultimately, the effectiveness of the vaccine and the way it is distributed will be all that matters.
In fact, the federal government had states submit vaccine distribution plans just last week, so we will soon see behind the curtains. States will likely require outside professional help to assist in the development and implementation of these plans.
States will also need to develop protocols for the administration of vaccines based on CDC guidance and the inevitable rise of hotspots. Vaccine screening protocols should be available utilizing web-based tools, including digital or mobile applications. States will also need to employ data collection methods to securely maintain patient records, especially to track those who may have an adverse reaction to the vaccine. One vaccine candidate, developed by Pfizer, is a single dose, while others will likely require two doses, administered weeks apart. To succeed, States must maintain accurate data to ensure proper dosing for each citizen.
The immediate hurdles to effectively distribute the vaccine will challenge every State. Initially, seniors, nursing home residents, and those with pre-existing health issues should be offered the vaccine, along with health care workers who are on the front lines. It is critical for the states to work closely with local public health, hospitals, pharmacy firms, and nursing home administrators to streamline the distribution process.
These vaccines will also require special handling, including unique refrigeration units to maintain vaccine quality. After the test kit debacle last March, federal and state authorities need to pay close attention to this matter. According to reports, as much as 20% of past vaccine shipments have been rendered ineffective due to damage or spoilage incurred in transit. That loss rate is simply unacceptable.
Every state will need to quickly ramp up specialized call centers, staffed by trained personnel, to handle a deluge of questions from citizens as to when and where they can receive vaccination. Such communication will be critical to maintaining public trust, especially when social media can readily transmit false information. We should also be cognizant of hostile foreign actors seeking to spread false information as they try to undermine public confidence in governments at all levels and the efficacy of the vaccines. Federal agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC, should deploy creative public service announcements narrated by notable, but non-political public figures, to reassure the public as to the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
Since World War II, I believe this pandemic is the greatest challenge our nation has faced. It is critically important that we both protect the public from the virus and get the economy fully reopened. Despite the national election next month, every elected official and candidate should realize that efficient distribution of the vaccine, with a minimum of partisan rancor, is perhaps the greatest public service they will ever perform.
John J. Faso formerly represented New York’s 19th Congressional District and is now a Senior Advisor to the Center for Accountability, Modernization and Innovation (CAMI). For more information on CAMI, please go to: https://thecenterforami.org/