TRURO, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: A staff nurse at the Royal Cornwall Hospital prepares to administer  Covid-19 vaccinations as the hospital began their vaccination programme on December 9, 2020 in Truro, United Kingdom. More than 50 hospitals across England were designated as covid-19 vaccine hubs, the first stage of what will be a lengthy vaccination campaign. NHS staff, over-80s, and care home residents will be among the first to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which recently received emergency approval from the country's health authorities. (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)
FDA advisers recommend authorization of Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine
02:45 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Gen. Gus Perna is the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine program. He is a four-star general and served as the 19th Commanding General of US Army Materiel Command (AMC), with 190,000 military, civilian and contractor employees, responsible for installation, logistics, sustainment and materiel readiness. He co-leads the partnership to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 

In a matter of days, our nation may begin distributing and administering tens of thousands of doses of a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine. Are we ready? I have been asked, and have asked myself, that single question more times than I can count.

To answer, I reflect back first on the extensive work and planning that brought us to where we are today. When Operation Warp Speed stood up May 15 – seven months ago – no one organization was structured to accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics at the scale required.

Gen. Gus Perna

No playbook existed to bring together government, industry and academia in a whole-of-America approach. We built the team from scratch – pulling in the best of the best experts in science, defense, acquisition, logistics and more. We went to work simultaneously, all laser focused on a common goal of saving lives and moving our nation past this pandemic.

Our distribution strategy was built on a successful immunization infrastructure, assembled and refined by the experience and expertise of the professionals at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has worked for decades to ensure public health systems are prepared with plans, trained personnel, strategic relationships and partnerships, data systems, and other necessary resources to sustain vaccine management across America.

To scale up for an effort of this magnitude, Operation Warp Speed added bandwidth and capability – logisticians, planners and information technology experts – to the CDC’s tried and true foundation. Similarly, we harnessed the strength of the existing delivery infrastructure, using commercial industry with companies like McKesson, FedEx and UPS, which have a proven track record of delivering vaccines to the nation.

Simply said, the CDC and industry know how to safely, effectively and efficiently get vaccines to the American people. We are ready for simultaneous distribution of tens of thousands of doses of safe and effective vaccines to 50 states, eight territories and six major metropolitan cities – collectively known as the 64 jurisdictions – and five federal agencies (Indian Health Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of State, Department of Defense, and Bureau of Prisons).

Once we determined how we were going to ship vaccines, the next question was where. We strongly believe that governors and public health officers within the jurisdictions know their states and people better than anyone. They know their own capabilities. They know their infrastructure and health care systems. And they know how to reach their populations. Operation Warp Speed needed to enable their plans, and, to that end, perhaps no partnership is more important than that with the jurisdictions.

While governors will decide where and how to administer vaccines, we remain absolutely committed to providing them the resources and support they need. This was not about making the jurisdictions do the hard work; it was about empowering them to decide how to best care for their people.

We established regional planning teams that are in daily contact with public health officials in each state and territory, understanding and working through their challenges. We have purchased and will deliver all the supplies required to administer vaccines alongside the drugs themselves, so jurisdictions have no extra expenses to vaccinate their people. We have worked hard to align data sharing and upgraded the IT infrastructure using 2020 technology to ensure systems can talk while protecting personal information. We created solutions to nationwide challenges of reaching critical populations in long term care facilities and hard to serve areas, partnering with chain and independent pharmacies to go mobile and leverage their brick and mortar sites.

We will not constrain jurisdictions’ plans; we will distribute vaccines and all the supplies required to administer them to as many sites as they direct, at no cost to the jurisdictions.

I have personally spoken with nearly every governor and/or public health officers from every jurisdiction. I have heard their concerns, and I have communicated our plans. I learn from every call and every visit, but overwhelmingly I hear that they have confidence in their systems and their ability to care for their people.

Our health care community vaccinates Americans every day. They manage the storage, handling and administration of complex vaccine and drug requirements, and they do it with little to no fanfare or attention.

We are committed to fair and equitable allocation of vaccines and therapeutics to the American people. While initial doses will be limited and prioritized to certain populations, we will ensure every American has easy access to vaccines once available.

We will continue to allocate and distribute vaccines weekly as they are manufactured. And we will communicate – through jurisdictions – to the American people about when it is their turn to receive a vaccine, if they choose – and I hope they will.

I have trust and confidence in the American spirit to be patient as we take care of our most vulnerable populations, and then scale to every American who wants a vaccine. For the record, I get asked often if I will take the vaccine, and the answer is a resounding yes. Science and data have driven every Operation Warp Speed decision, and I am 100% confident in the safety of these vaccines.

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    So, are we ready? Here’s what I know. If we had more weeks and more months, we could refine our plans, better communicate every fine detail, and continue to work out the kinks in the system we will inevitably find. But I also know, from nearly 37 years as an Army logistician leading and supporting America’s soldiers on the battlefield, time is our enemy. Thousands continue to die every day from this virus. We cannot wait for perfection. We have made incredible strides to be ready, building on a tested system, harnessing the experience of the nation’s best professionals, and enabling the jurisdictions’ public health professionals. We are ready.

    We can and will do this because of the CDC experts, industry capability and capacity, and commitment of the jurisdictions. We must do this, because our way of life has been attacked and this is how we get it back. But we are even more ready when America stands with us, rallies around us and supports these efforts. Our whole-of-America approach has been the power behind Operation Warp Speed, and it will be what makes us successful in this next phase.