The military’s role in vaccines must be strictly behind the scenes


“I was surprised when Trump spoke about the Defense Department releasing any vaccine,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, who has been deeply involved in the vaccine planning process. “There is no role for the military there. And if there were, we would be angry about it because we are the defenders of states.

Concerns about vaccine conspiracy theories are even more of a reason to keep the military out of sight, Dr Plescia said. “There has been a lot of concern about the reluctance to vaccinate, and having a group of soldiers around wouldn’t be very helpful,” he said. “Even the participation of the National Guard could have a downside.”

As one of the largest suppliers of liquid injectable drugs in the country, Pfizer already has an extensive network of commercial shippers that help move its drugs from its Michigan manufacturing facility to suppliers across the country. This will be all the more important with the company’s coronavirus vaccine, which must be stored at a temperature below zero.

The military has spent hours conducting tabletop exercises to help think about how the program might go wrong and how it might need to step in to help.

“The government has offered its full support and is ready to help overcome any obstacle,” said Amy Rose, spokesperson for Pfizer. Of the six companies developing a vaccine, the pharmaceutical giant was the only one to reject federal funding.

Pentagon planners have looked at a range of risks associated with the distribution of a vaccine, from large-scale protests that could disrupt traffic to poor weather conditions. The military says it can use its planes and helicopters to deliver vaccines to remote locations, but only if no other means of transport is possible.

The army will also monitor vaccine distribution through an operations center. “They will know where each dose of vaccine is,” Mango said on a call with reporters. “If a dose of vaccine is likely to expire, they will guide its movement to another location.”


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