WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As scientists and pharmaceutical companies work at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus, public health officials and senior U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern about the Trump administration’s lack of planning to spread across the country.
PHOTO: US President Donald Trump speaks during a tour of the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies Innovation Center, a pharmaceutical plant where components are being developed for a coronavirus vaccine candidate (COVID-19) in Morrisville, North Carolina, USA, July 27 2020 Reuters / Carlos Barria / File Photo
The federal government has traditionally played a key role in financing and overseeing the production and distribution of new vaccines, which often take advantage of scarce ingredients and must be made, stored and transported carefully.
There will not be enough vaccine for all 330 million Americans at once, so the government also plays a role in deciding who gets it first and in training a vaccine that is alerting the public here to its potential life-saving merits.
It is unclear who in Washington is in charge of oversight, much less critical details, some government health officials and members of Congress told Reuters.
A senior Trump administration official told Reuters last week that Operation Warp Speed, the White House task force first announced here in May, was “committed to carrying out the plan (vaccine) and spreading medical countermeasures as soon as possible.” .
However, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a Senate hearing on July 2 that his agency would lead a campaign to develop and distribute a vaccine for the new coronavirus. “This is really the main responsibility of the CDC,” he said.
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, who chairs a commission to monitor funding for the health program, is one of several lawmakers to push for the CDC, founded in 1946 to fight malaria, to lead the effort.
“They are the only federal agency with proven experience in distributing vaccines and long-standing agreements with health services across the country,” Blunt said in a statement in mid-July.
The United States leads the world in COVID-related deaths by more than 150,000 in five months. After underestimating the threat of the virus, President Donald Trump and his advisers have been embroiled in internal battles over how to deal with the crisis just three months before his re-election against Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
A July 15-21 poll by Reuters / Ipsos found that only 38% of the public supported Trump’s control of the pandemic.
Health officials and lawmakers say they are concerned that without thorough planning and coordination with states, the spread of the vaccine could be burdened with the same kind of interruptions leading to chronic shortages of coronavirus diagnostic tests and other medical supplies.
Washington must now educate people about vaccination plans to build public confidence and avoid confusion, said Sen. Patti Murray, a senior Democrat on the Health Program Funding Committee.
“What’s the priority, who gets it first? First responders, health workers, these things,” Murray said in a telephone interview. On July 13, Murray published a roadmap here for the distribution of vaccines.
Poor performance will mean “we will sit here two years from now, three years from now, in the same economic and health situation we are in today,” she said.
COUNTRIES IN THE DARK
Meanwhile, some public health officials say their requests to the Trump administration are unanswered.
“We haven’t heard anything from the federal government since April 23,” said Daniel Koenig, a health promotion supervisor at the State Department of Health in Washington.
It was then that her agency received preliminary guidelines for vaccine planning from the CDC.
Immunization experts, along with state and local public health officials, sent a letter to Operation Warp Speed on June 23 asking for new directions.
States must know immediately whether the federal government will pay for the vaccines, as happened during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, the letter said. Will tampons, syringes and personal protective equipment for alcohol be included? How about storing and storing the vaccine in the refrigerator and who will deliver it?
There is no official response yet, said Claire Hanan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, one of the four organizations that signed the letter.
“We are urgently looking forward to discussions with federal, state and local forces to identify challenges and plan solutions. A vaccination campaign of this magnitude is unprecedented and will take more than an army, “Hanan said Tuesday, citing Trump’s repeated statements that the U.S. military was ready to deliver vaccines.
Trump insists that everything is in place.
“We’re all ready to go when it comes to the vaccine,” Trump told a White House briefing on Thursday. “… And the delivery system is ready. Logistically, we have a general who all he does is deliver things, whether it’s soldiers or other items.
“We’re making progress on vaccines, we’re making progress on therapy, and when we have it, we’re all ready to deliver it very, very quickly with our platforms,” Trump said.
Report by Richard Cowan; Edited by Heather Timmons and Grant McCall