The federal government on Wednesday presented an ambitious plan to make COVID-19 vaccines available free to all Americans, even as polls show a strong stream of skepticism spreading across the country.
In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Department of Defense outlined complex plans for a vaccination campaign that would begin gradually in January or perhaps later that year, finally reaching any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved in the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving the vaccines.
The campaign is “much more extensive in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous vaccine responses linked to an outbreak,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s manual for states says.
Among the strong points:
- For most vaccines, people will need two doses, spaced 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines should come from the same drug manufacturer. There may be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.
- The vaccination of the American population will not be a sprint but a marathon. Initially, the supply of vaccines may be limited and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential workers and people from vulnerable groups. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the National Academy of Medicine and other organizations are working on the priorities for the first phase. A second and third phase would extend vaccination to the whole country.
- The vaccine itself will be free and patients will not be billed out of pocket for administering vaccines, thanks to billions of dollars in government funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration.
- States and local communities will need to design specific plans to receive and distribute vaccines locally, some of which will require special handling, such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have one month to submit their plans.
Some of the major components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday’s reports attempt to put the main details into an overall framework. The distribution is taking place under the auspices of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have millions of doses ready to ship once a vaccine has received what should be approval for use. emergency by the Food and Drug Administration. Several formulations are in final testing.
But the entire company faces public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they would get the vaccine in an Associated Press poll in May. Of those who did not want to be vaccinated, the overwhelming majority said they were concerned about safety. To effectively protect the nation from the coronavirus, experts say more than 70% of Americans need to be vaccinated or have their own immunity against COVID-19.
Since the poll, questions have multiplied as to whether the government is trying to rush COVID-19 treatments and vaccines to help President Donald Trump’s chances of re-election.
Ahead of the August Republican National Convention, the FDA authorized treatment of COVID-19 patients with plasma from people who have recovered, even though some government scientists were not convinced the clinical evidence was strong enough . And last week, it was reported that Michael Caputo, a policy official with the Department of Health and Human Services, attempted to gain editorial control of a weekly science publication from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Caputo, the department’s chief spokesperson, also apologized to his staff on Tuesday for a Facebook video in which he allegedly said scientists fighting the coronavirus were conspiring against President Donald Trump and warned of gunfire in America if Trump were to lose the November election.
The government announced Wednesday that Caputo was taking time off “to focus on his health and the well-being of his family.”
Caputo, a fierce Trump loyalist who had no healthcare experience when he was appointed to the HHS post, had become a significant new issue for a White House that has struggled year-round with its response to the coronavirus . Capitol Hill Democrats had called for Caputo’s resignation.
As public confidence in major health agencies has been battered, Trump administration officials have been forced to play the defense.
“We are working closely with our state and our local public health partners … to make sure Americans can receive the vaccine as quickly as possible and vaccinate with confidence,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday. “Americans should know that the vaccine development process is entirely driven by science and data.”
It could be a tough sell. In the AP poll, one in five Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine, and 31% said they were not sure.