The reduced amount of coronavirus vaccines that federal officials planned to distribute to the public is the result of scalability and more involvement from other federal agencies, Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, the director of supply, production and distribution for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, told The Washington Post on Monday afternoon.
Any new vaccine is going to have scale-up issues as it evolves from small batches to vats containing thousands of liters of liquid, said Ostrowski, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s effort to fast-track development of coronavirus countermeasures.
“It’s like going from an Easy-Bake Oven to commercial mass production of cookies, quite frankly,” he said. “Every process, every step of the way, the FDA has to be involved to ensure that it’s done correctly. … The combination of those two are long poles in a tent.”
Pfizer, one of the vaccine manufacturers, cut its projection for 2020 from 100 million to 50 million doses in November, but it remains on track to produce 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021, The Post reported.
Ostrowski said there are thousands of things that could cause a manufacturer to pause, assess what went wrong and move forward, which could result in the loss of doses.
Pfizer is expected to receive emergency use authorization for its vaccine later in the week, and the rollout process for the vaccine could take days to reach targeted demographics, such as first responders and patients in long-term care facilities. Those populations could start receiving vaccinations by next week if not sooner, depending on when the authorization is given, and vaccinations could be completed by the end of January, he said.
The 42 million Americans who are over 65 and other essential workers could become inoculated by the end of March before federal officials set their sights on the rest of the population, according to Ostrowski.
He reminded the public that AstraZeneca and Janssen have vaccines in the latter stages of clinical trials involving 30,000 or more people each, and that indications of their efficacy could be known by January. If proved effective, that could mean more vaccine options for Americans, he said.
Of the 64 distribution sites working with Operation Warp Speed, only two in the South Pacific islands are unable to support the logistics of distributing the vaccine, such as an appropriate freezer or the ability to produce or reproduce dry ice, according to Ostrowski.
He said he plans to take a vaccine, and encouraged the public to take one also, as public skepticism continues to exist alongside a high infection rate.
“The only way that we’re going to get our lives back frankly is to get the vaccine and become what we call herd immunity,” he said, adding that he hopes health-care workers taking the vaccine will provide more confidence. “What we don’t want to do it put ourselves in a position where we’re superspreaders and not knowing it.”