The military’s war on COVID-19

How the U.S. military is playing a part in preparing for vaccine distribution
Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 7:30 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The United States military fights terrorism, saves lives during natural disasters, and now, its latest mission is the war on coronavirus.

In an interview with President Donald Trump on Aug. 4, Gray Television Washington Bureau Chief Jacqueline Policastro asked the president about the process for rolling out a vaccine.

“We’re all set up with our military. Logistically, we’re all set,” President Trump responded. “We have a general who does this.”

That four-star Army general is Gus Perna. He is co-leading Operation Warp Speed -- the federal government’s plan to distribute a vaccine with the initial doses available by January 2021.

Perna has nearly 40 years of military experience.

“You’re talking about some of the best logisticians in the world,” said Paul Mango, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mango said the military’s role is more organizational, not direct distribution. One example: he says the military is boxing more than 1 billion needles and syringes into vaccine kits.

“We’re trying to plan for how much dry ice do we need, how many band aids do we need?” Mango explained.

This is the biggest role the military has ever played in preparing for vaccine distribution to the public. And it is also the most ambitious timeline for developing, manufacturing, and delivering a vaccine.

“This is going to be a very complex process,” said Dr. William Moss with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Moss said the COVID-19 vaccine could bring new challenges. Some of the vaccines in development need to be stored at very cold temperatures. He is also concerned about high-risk populations getting access to the vaccine first.

“The trick becomes figuring out how much vaccine to get to different places,” Moss said.

While HHS aims to roll out initial doses early next year, President Trump believes it could happen “much sooner.”

Multimedia Journalist Natalie Grim and Photojournalist/Editor Tyler Smith contributed to this report.

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