The Trump administration is asking states to have vaccine distribution plans in place by mid-October, stoking fears that the government will rush the release of an unproven COVID-19 vaccine before the election at a risk to public health.
At a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Tuesday, the CDC’s premier vaccine group, scientists presented on the progress of a COVID shot and its distribution.
But after a broadcasted presentation on vaccine safety and distribution, one scientist said that an Oct. 16 deadline made her “concerned about finalizing state plans.”
States have to submit what’s known as a jurisdictional response plan, which includes plans for storing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as its available.
“Is this a hard deadline, or one just to be considered?” the scientist asked. “Because in my mind, this would be a time to build relationships with city and state officials.”
She added that given that vaccine data won’t be available by that date, “October 16 seems a little premature.”
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, replied, saying that “our colleagues in Operation Warp Speed say that they expect there will be vaccine as early as November.”
“And, therefore, we need to be ready so that there is no delay in distributing that vaccine,” Messonnier added.
Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to speed up vaccine development and distribution for COVID-19, has signaled that it intends to begin distributing a vaccine before the November election. President Trump himself has pressured the FDA, the agency which would approve any COVID-19 vaccine for use, to approve one before Election Day, while Trump officials have reportedly referred to a pre-election vaccine approval as a “holy grail” for President Trump’s re-election chances.
“I think its really important to understand that we have a lot of goals here, but one goal is to be ready on the first day that we can actually distribute vaccine,” Messonnier added.
A CDC spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment about the exchange.
The Oct. 16 deadline for state distribution plans did not come out of nowhere.
Rather, it emerged from a playbook that the CDC sent out to state and territorial public health officials last week. That document described the Trump administration’s plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, free of cost, to the entire U.S. population.
At first, scientists have said, vaccine will be available in extremely limited doses. The vaccine is not expected to become widely available, upon demand, to the U.S. population until next year, though President Trump has given a range of November to April for when the shot will be available to the entire U.S. population.
In testimony before Congress last week, CDC Director Robert Redfield suggested that summer 2021 was a more realistic estimate. Early phases of vaccine distribution would, instead, focus on critical groups like ER doctors and the elderly.
“We have to be ready for that early phase,” Messonier said.