Two of the leaders of the crash program to develop Covid-19 vaccines, General Gus Perna, Chief Operating Officer, and Dr. Matt Hepburn, head of Vaccine Development, provided their story, “The Fight to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine: The Inside Story of the Administration’s Operation Warp Speed,” on Tuesday.” The core point was the obvious: the crash program abandoned ‘cost-benefit’ and ‘just-in-time’ practices, and let reality determine what they had to do. So, they ran parallel development of six vaccine candidates, including the mass production of dosages prior to approval; and supply-chain items for ingredients of vaccines and delivery systems purchased in bulk to be on site early in the process. Also, there was early investment in new production facilities with new production techniques, and the mission-oriented environment helped the cooperation levels. Perna emphasized that “egos get checked at the door” because “lives are at stake.”
Perna, a military logistics specialist, was weeks away from retirement from a 39-year Army career, when he was called by Trump and asked to head the Operation Warp Speed logistics. He interrupted his retirement plans. On Monday, he was in Memphis, TN, visiting the new McKesson distribution warehouse which has built a massive capacity for refrigerated storage at -20 and -80 degrees — necessary for some of the vaccines. They are set to roll out tens of millions of vaccine doses before the end of the year, and hundreds of million from January to March, with 100% accountability as to where each dose is, and as to what person has gotten which vaccine and which dose. (Five of the six vaccines are double-dose vaccines, requiring the second dose 21 or 28 days later.)
Finally, the clinical trials were designed for massive testing in order to obtain more safety information more quickly. The various vaccines should show different profiles, e.g., some better for the elderly, and the clinical trials will help determine how the distribution occurs (e.g., to which populations). Dr. Hepburn was hopeful that this newly-revived capacity for accelerated product development in the US will not be dismantled, but will be the new normal. The states submitted their distribution plans last week, and the task force reviewed them over the last week, offering advice back to the states. The machinery is ready to roll, awaiting the FDA’s approval of vaccines.