The corona pandemic is out of control in the US, also because of the president. Nevertheless, there will be a vaccine earlier than anywhere else. A success for Donald Trump – and the state.
A plaque hangs on the wall of General Gustave Perna’s Washington office. A timeline is drawn there with felt-tip pens, so it can be seen on a video. The first entry in a long line is: “D-Day”.
Gustave Perna, 60 years old, is not planning an invasion. No troops will land in Normandy on his D-Day to liberate Europe. One of the largest logistics operations in US history will begin on Perna’s D-Day: the distribution of a corona vaccine to 330 million Americans.
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The USA will probably be the first state in the world that can vaccinate its citizens against the corona virus on a large scale. It would be a huge success for President Donald Trump’s administration, albeit his only one in the fight against the pandemic. And it would be proof of the capabilities of the state – of all places in the traditionally state-critical USA.
The big bet
In the Corona crisis, vaccines and drugs were the only means for which Donald Trump was enthusiastic in the long term. In May, he launched Operation Warp Speed. It’s a typical Trump name – oversized. It comes from the science fiction series “Star Trek” and stands for the fairytale speed with which spaceships fly from planet to planet.
But the name does not describe the dimension of the challenge badly. What would otherwise take many years can now only take a few months. The state helps the market for this in practically every phase. Experts from the Ministry of Health, the CDC Disease Control Agency, the Department of Defense and many other agencies are working with the pharmaceutical giants.
The US has selected six companies that are working on a vaccine. They paid them millions of dollars long before some of them started to show any development success. For research itself, for clinical tests, for the construction and expansion of production factories.
The vaccine itself has long been manufactured in large quantities and has already been paid for by the state – although it has not yet been approved. Around ten billion dollars have been approved for Operation “Warp Speed” so far, but it is already clear that it will be many billions more.
It’s a huge bet.
No army trucks, but bullis from UPS and FedEx
A bet that should pay off on General Perna’s D-Day. With the simple command “Execute”, Perna then wants to start the distribution, as he said on the television program “60 Minutes”. The first vaccination doses should be delivered 24 hours later.
Around 20 million Americans could be vaccinated this way as early as December. First of all, seniors and other high-risk groups. In the first few months thereafter, it should be 25 to 30 million each time – if possible, the trend will rise sharply when more vaccines are ready.
General Gustave Perna at a press conference on Operation Warp Speed in mid-November in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Source: Evan Vucci / AP / dpa)
The logistics behind it are coordinated by the military from an office in Washington, with General Perna at the helm of the operation. Each vaccine box should be distributed along with syringes and alcohol swabs. The vaccination kits are not transported in army trucks, even if armed guards are supposed to secure the valuable goods.
Bullis from UPS and FedEx will distribute them, just like the Christmas present from the online shop. McKesson, which also distributes the flu vaccine in the US, will handle centralized transport for five of the six potential vaccines – with the shipping giants as subcontractors.
Transport bei minus 70 Grad
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which recently announced the first breakthrough with the German Biontech, is using its own logistics. The two companies face a particular challenge. Because your vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius in order not to become unusable after a few days.
General Perna and his team must also ensure that there are enough suitable refrigerators available throughout the country. In 95 percent of the cases, sufficient cooling is already guaranteed, he told the radio station NPR. For all other cases and for transport there, Pfizer has developed a special container.
Around 1,000 to 5,000 vaccination doses can be transported in the container with several cooling layers. The containers are cooled down with large quantities of dry ice. Unopened, they are designed to keep the vaccine cool for up to ten days. A special thermometer monitors the temperature.
Each state vaccinates for itself
Once the vaccine doses have arrived in the states and major cities, the authorities there take care of everything else. Where there is a lack of expertise, the “Warp Speed” staff should help. It is the part of the logistics operation that worries some experts because it is where the centralized strategy becomes a decentralized one.
If everything goes according to plan, General Perna and his team should still have a precise overview of where and how many vaccine doses are arriving. This should be possible with the I.T platform Tiberius, which transforms the transport data of the various companies into a large, colorful USA map.
Where Americans can then get vaccinated free of charge is determined by their place of residence. In some cases, there should be special Covid vaccination centers, in some cases vaccination should take place in hospitals, and in some cases they want to work with pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens.
Waiting for D-Day
But first General Perna has to wait for his D-Day. When exactly it will be, that is not in his hand. It has to do with when the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, issues the first emergency approval for a vaccine. Pfizer-Biontech applied for this approval last Friday. The FDA wants to take about three weeks to do the test. A decision could be made at a meeting of independent experts on December 10th.
And there is nothing else that General Perna has in hand. Even if everything goes according to plan during the “Warp Speed” operation and millions of vaccine doses are available in record time in all corners of the United States: Americans also have to be vaccinated. A poll by the Gallup Institute at the end of October shows that only 58 percent are currently ready.
It is therefore not wrongly driving UPS vans or rotten vaccines that persecute General Perna in his nightmares. It’s exactly this scenario, as he told “60 Minutes”: “We bring vaccines to American citizens and they don’t take them.”