U.S. Officials Announce Plans for Coronavirus Vaccine

Federal officials announced on September 16 that they are planning to administer a free coronavirus vaccine to Americans within 24 hours of approval or emergency authorization, claiming that the initial distribution to health care workers and other high-priority groups will take place as early as the end of 2020.

The government also plans to establish a database that would track when a person received a vaccine (and which product), ideally linking health centers’ existing databases so that each person’s immunization history is still available when they go to a different location for a subsequent dose. These plans are part of Operation Warp Speed, the effort to make a coronavirus vaccine available to Americans as soon as possible. According to the officials, the U.S. Department of Defense will step in to help with the shipment, storage, and tracking of vaccines.

“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty. We don’t know the timing of when we’ll have a vaccine, we don’t know the quantities, we don’t know the efficacy of those vaccines,” said Paul Mango, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a really quite extraordinary, logistically complex undertaking. … I think the message we want you to leave with is, we are prepared for all of those uncertainties.”

The federal government has promised to provide the immunizations at no out-of-pocket cost, Mr. Mango said, having reached billion-dollar agreements with the pharmaceutical companies closest to developing vaccines. Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca are each testing products in late-stage trials and hope to have their candidates ready by the end of 2020. Pfizer has said it may be able to apply for emergency approval as early as October.

However, opinion polls suggest many Americans are wary of receiving a vaccine that they feel has been rushed through the approval process – before there is sufficient evidence for its safety and efficacy – for political reasons.

Sources: The New York Times, September 16, 2020; KFF poll, September 10, 2020.