Nov 19, 2020 - 10:30am

While the COVID-19 Vaccine is Within Reach, Logistical Challenges and Funding Remain Roadblocks in Distribution


Executive Director, Supply Chain Policy

In recent weeks we have seen impressive progress on the development of vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies like Pfizer and Moderna have made great strides in advancing vaccines through clinical trials and are  getting closer to obtaining Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. With other companies like Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca not far behind, there is reason to believe that we may finally be approaching the beginning of the end of this terrible health and economic crisis.

Logistical Challenges

But much remains to be done, and as we learned at our October 29 event, Logistical Challenges of Vaccine Distribution, there are several challenges ahead of us.

Pharmaceutical innovators and the Administration’s Operation Warp Speed began making plans in the Spring to vaccinate every American beginning in January 2021.  To accomplish this requires an unprecedented level of coordination between the Federal, State and local governments and collective resources.  

These plans turn on important processes and details: everything from hiring and training a large number of health care workers to administer a vaccine and updating data to document who gets it.  We must have the systems in place to track the patients that will need a follow up booster and to make sure hospitals, drug stores, and other health centers have the necessary infrastructure to store vaccines, including refrigeration and dry ice.  The country must have ready the necessary trucks, planes, and workers to transport millions of vials and new facilities where mass vaccinations can be administered.

In the Federal government, many disparate agencies have worked for over six months to identify distribution opportunities that exist through the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Transportation. In the business community, pharmaceutical companies are working with express carriers, hospitals, drug stores, airports, suppliers, and others to make sure that enough doses available next year and that these doses can be allocated and administered where and when they are needed.  At the same time, the business community is also working with State, local, and tribal governments to address the challenges of ensuring widespread distribution.

A tremendous amount of work is necessary for our country to be ready and able to distribute approximately 20 million doses before the end of the year and hundreds of millions more in 2021.

Funding Challenges

The amount of coordination and planning for this event is unprecedented.  But something critical is missing - money.

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) estimates this effort will cost at least $8.4 billion. State and local governments are already hurting from a pandemic that depleted budgets and overwhelmed hospitals; they simply do not have the means to fund this effort.

Therefore, the White House and Congress must step up. Unfortunately, so far they have failed to agree to a COVID relief bill that includes money for this effort.  With so much on the line, including public health, our economy, even allowing our kids to return to school – this is simply inexcusable. The Administration raised the stakes in vaccine development and distribution, and it would be a real shame if Washington fails us now.

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About the Author

About the Author

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Executive Director, Supply Chain Policy

John Drake is executive director for supply chain policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.