Lawmakers call on Trump administration to release its vaccine-distribution plan
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Developing a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine is tough, but getting that vaccine into the arms of more than 300 million Americans may be even tougher.
With less than six months to go until some leading drug makers say they could have a coronavirus vaccine ready to distribute here in the U.S., two senior U.S. lawmakers are calling on the White House to release its plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine nationwide.
In a letter sent today to White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) – the two top Democrats on a key House oversight panel that oversees the CDC – said they were concerned about the Trump administration’s failure to finalize and release a vaccine-distribution plan. The lawmakers also said they were concerned about recent reports that some of the nation’s top public health experts were being sidelined in the process.
“As the pursuit for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine proceeds, we are concerned that the Trump Administration has yet to finalize and release a national COVID-19 vaccine plan,” the lawmakers wrote. “The Administration’s apparent failure to engage key stakeholders, its continued secrecy surrounding Operation Warp Speed, and its ad hoc announcements in lieu of a comprehensive national plan perpetuates confusion and further threatens public trust in a future COVID-19 vaccine.”
According to recent reports, the Trump administration says it plans to use the U.S. military to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine here in the U.S., as soon as one has been approved for use.
It would be the first time the U.S. military – and not the CDC – has taken the lead in a civilian vaccine distribution program and public health experts warn that using the military in such a way could further erode the public’s confidence in the safety of a vaccine.
“If true, in addition to threatening public trust in a future COVID-19 vaccine, distribution efforts by DOD may also risk duplicating or undermining existing public health partners and infrastructure with longstanding experience in supporting the distribution, allocation, and tracking of vaccines,” the lawmakers wrote. “While the Administration has awarded billions of dollars for the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, Congress, key public health stakeholders, and the American people have yet to be informed about how the Administration intends to ensure the equitable distribution of a vaccine once it is available.”
While the Trump administration has yet to provide Congress – or the American people – any sort of official plan showing how it will distribute a vaccine here in the U.S., a senior Trump administration official reportedly told a group of reporters during a press call last month that its plan would involve setting up a joint venture with the Department of Defense and CDC to distribute the vaccine – with DOD handling logistics and distribution and CDC responsible for tracking shipments and communicating with states.
When members of Congress, however, pressed the administration for details of such a plan last month, they were told the administration’s vaccine-distribution plan has not yet been finalized and likely wouldn’t be available until later this month.
As concern and confusion over how the administration’s plan to distribute a vaccine once it’s available continue to grow, so too does the urgency for the White House to produce such a plan.
In June, officials from the top five drug companies working to develop a coronavirus vaccine testified before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee – led by DeGette – on the progress of their vaccines. Three of the five companies that appeared that day told the panel they could have a vaccine ready to distribute here in the U.S. before the end of the year.
In addition to their concerns over the administration’s failure to produce a comprehensive distribution plan, DeGette and Pallone also said they were concerned about recent reports that some of the nation’s top public health experts where being shutout of the distribution-planning process.
For years, the CDC has been the agency that’s taken the lead in distributing vaccines throughout the country during mass outbreaks, such as the one the U.S. is experiencing now.
To help it determine how best to distribute those vaccines, the CDC has relied on various groups of medical and public health experts it has convened – including the Association of Immunization Managers and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – to help formulate its plan vaccine-distribution plans.
While these groups have shown to be instrumental in the CDC’s planning of previous vaccination programs in response to past outbreaks, the Trump administration announced last month, that it has convened a new panel of experts to help make such decisions for the coronavirus vaccine.
Instead of being convened and led by the CDC as the previous panels have been, this newly-created panel was convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and is being led by the head of the National Institutes of Health.
DeGette and Pallone called the move “deeply troubling.”
“The Administration’s apparent lack of engagement with these key stakeholders is deeply troubling,” the lawmakers wrote. “Experts agree that CDC and public health partners will be vital to the successful execution of a future COVID-19 vaccine program.”
In order to better understand the administration’s plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine nationwide as soon as one is available, and the role this newly-created panel will play in the process, DeGette and Pallone requested that the administration provide their committee the following information no later than August 19, 2020:
- A copy of the administration’s plan to distribute the vaccine
- Details as to how it plans to incorporate key local, state and federal health officials in the distribution planning process.
- Clarity on the role that DOD and CDC are each expected to play in distributing a vaccine
- Additional details on the role that the administration’s newly-created panel of health experts is expected to play in determining who gets the vaccine first.
A copy of DeGette and Pallone’s letter is available here.