A Focus On Distribution

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Photo by NIAID-RML.

With the announcement that Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trials were exceptionally successful (Science reports that only 11 of those who received the vaccine came down with the virus, and none of those developed severe symptoms) the company is seeking expedited authorizations to begin distributing the vaccine throughout the United States and European Union. This comes less than two weeks after Pfizer/BioNTech applied for similar authorization from the United States, and amidst other companies which are completing, or are deeply into, phase II and phase II trials. The end is near for those of us who have been biding our time waiting for a vaccine… maybe.

There are three steps to wide-scale immunization, all are absolutely necessary: creation of a vaccine, production of the vaccine, and distribution of the vaccine. We are at the end of the creation stage and have already ramped up production in anticipation of the recently reported success. That said, American production capacity was reduced following the anti-vaccination autism scare of the 1990s and the law changes limiting the use of mercury as an element in preservation. The greater costs associated with the Clinton-era rule change resulted in nearly every domestic vaccine producer either folding or moving out of the country. The country saw a rebound of vaccine production following the Bird Flu pandemic in 2005, and eleven years of support, first under Bush and then Obama, brought our production capacity back to a functional level. Operation Warp Speed was devised by the department of Health and Human Services to increase production. Money has been thrown at both the expected producers of the vaccines and the companies who make the equipment used to produce the vaccine; in theory, that may be enough.

The distribution is where problems can be expected to arise.

In the United States, individual states have generally been left to devise the best ways to transport the vaccines and track those who have received them. An issue arising from using different vaccines is that they require distinct handling, storage and presentation. Some vaccines require deep freezing at temperatures below -90 degrees Fahrenheit; others, -5 degrees. Others in production are hoped to maintain integrity up to around 40 degrees. Some vaccines require two successive injections, others, only one.

There are risks of large quantities of vaccine spoiling due to being stored incorrectly even when all procedures are taken; simply mistaking one vaccine for another would trigger such a result. More, any messaging from the federal, state or local governments is going to be muddled; there will be no simple warnings that people require two shots because, depending on the type of dose, only one shot may be needed. And, of course, the differences in experiences for the various injections will fuel conspiracy theory of the sort which led to the ill-fated legislation of the 1990s… conspiracy theory which has already been encouraged at the Presidential level for the better part of a year.

Production issues are also likely to come into play. Worldwide production has been dramatically increased in the EU, in India, in Japan and elsewhere. It is likely that the United States, a wealthier nation, can exert financial pressure to divert some of the excess production runs to the US prior to it being distributed to poorer nations. This could, in theory, allow the US to reach full immunization fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the US has pulled out of international cooperation agreements which would have given it early access.

Then, too, the airline industry has seen a dramatic reduction in flights due to COVID-19. This has resulted in fewer airplanes being maintained at flight readiness and diminished staffing. The airlines are going to need to have flights running at greatly increased levels, with the capacity for proper temperature maintenance.

The recent movements on the vaccine front are hopeful, but we’re not out of the woods yet. If action is not taken, quickly, to address the expected logistic and information requirements on the state and federal levels, we can expect to see months of extra unnecessary delay before returning to a semblance of normalcy.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.