Vaccine officials contradict Azar when it will be available to a wider audience

Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, has provided a rosy time frame for when the COVID-19 vaccine will be widely available, but other officials working on the Pentagon-led effort to accelerate the virus to the public present now a less optimistic forecast.

In comments Thursday, officials at the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed ​​predicted that the COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t become widely available until late spring or summer.

The comments from officials involved in the distribution effort came during a call organized by the Association for Health Care Resource & Materials Management.

Colonel Victor Suarez, a vaccine program manager at Operation Warp Speed, said on the call that “we want to make enough vaccine doses so that anyone in the United States who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine by this summer.”

“When vaccines become more abundant in the spring and summer, you will see more layered groups opening up,” Suarez said at another point during the call, referring to the groups of people the CDC has prioritized receiving the vaccine, either. because of the essential nature of their work, or because of their unique vulnerability to the virus.

Suarez’s comments suggest widespread availability of the vaccine won’t come deeper until the summer.

Minister Azar gave a clearly more optimistic picture on Monday, projecting the widespread availability of the COVID vaccine weeks into the term of the Biden administration.

‘I think we could see that [vaccination of the general public] in late February, until March, ”Azar told NBC on Monday. “It’s really, again, up to the governors of our country, but with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, we will, as I said, have as many as 100 [million] shots in arms by the end of February. “

He added that by then the COVID-19 vaccine would be just as available as the seasonal flu shot.

‘At the end of February, in the period of March, I think you’ll see it [it] much more like a flu vaccination campaign, ”said Azar.

When asked about the discrepancy between Azar’s comments and those of Operation Warp Speed ​​officials on the webinar, an HHS spokesperson told TBM: Late first quarter, with enough vaccines available for all Americans who want them have by June. “

But during a phone call with co-panelists from vaccine distributor McKesson and BARDA, the HHS office responsible for developing medical countermeasures against emerging threats, Operation Warp Speed ​​officials were significantly less optimistic.

“As soon as we clear levels 1A, B and C, and we migrate to levels two and three, you’ll see that a lot more people have access to this vaccine,” Suarez said.

The distribution effort is currently in Phase 1A, meaning that only medical personnel and residents of long-term care facilities are eligible for the injection.

That portion of the effort is conducted federally and focuses on populations that stay in one place. But as distribution efforts continue, states will have significant leeway in deciding who gets vaccinated in what order.

How quickly the states move through the categories of people who have the priority to get the injection depends on how much vaccine is available and how quickly they can vaccinate.

“We want it to be, say by the summer, that as someone who didn’t want to get it, and now you’ve changed your mind, and want to walk into Walgreens or CVS, we want that to be available,” added Suarez to.

Also on the call was Marion Whicker, a member of the military’s senior executive service, deputy chief of supply, manufacturing, and distribution for Operation Warp Speed.

Whicker offered an opinion of availability that was a little closer to Azar’s comments, but still suggested that the secretary was optimistic in his assessment.

She said Pfizer and Moderna would each deliver 20 million doses per month, which equates to 20 million Americans vaccinated each month with two doses of maximum efficient distribution.

“By the time you get medical professionals in the first two months and then move on to long-term care facilities, as you’ve probably seen on TV, we expect vaccines towards the end of March, the early end of spring. for all of America, ”Whicker said.