US plans to ship first coronavirus vaccines within 24 hours of FDA approval

US officials on Wednesday indicated that a COVID-19 vaccine will start to be distributed within about 24 hours after a license or emergency-use authorisation (EUA) is issued. Paul Ostrowski, who is overseeing logistics for the US government's Operation Warp Speed initiative, said that the objective is to move the vaccine to administration sites "as fast as possible, within a day or so."

The comments come as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a plan Wednesday detailing how the vaccine will be distributed to medical providers across the country. In the plan, the CDC said it anticipates a coronavirus vaccine will initially be granted an EUA before a full formal approval.

CDC director Robert Redfield indicated that much of the guidance, though not all, will overlap with many routine activities for immunisations and pandemic influenza planning. He said that as the vaccine will only be available in limited quantities at first, its use will likely be prioritised for certain groups such as healthcare workers, but as supply ramps up, the two goals will be to provide widespread access and to ensure high uptake in target populations, especially those at high risk of death or complications from COVID-19.

Return to 'regular life' in 2021

Earlier this month, at the request of the CDC and the US National Institutes of Health, a proposal drafted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine outlined a four-phase distribution plan that would start with healthcare workers, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions getting vaccinated first. Essential workers, teachers and people in homeless shelters as well as people in prisons would be next on the list, followed by children and young adults.

Redfield also suggested that there should be enough COVID-19 vaccine doses "generally available to the American public" to allow for a return to "regular life" by the late second quarter or third quarter 2021.

WHO pushes back against 'vaccine nationalism'

Separately, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its appointed Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization unveiled a global vaccine distribution plan, with a view to countering so-called "vaccine nationalism," under which countries prioritise their own citizens by striking individual deals with pharmaceutical companies. "The first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all the countries, rather than all the people in some countries," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warning that "vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it."

A total of 170 countries so far intend to participate in the WHO's vaccine accelerator programme, dubbed COVAX, although the US is not participating.

Aside from devising a distribution strategy among all countries, the WHO framework also examines vaccination priorities within each one. Meanwhile, unlike the US proposal, the WHO guidelines do not include the order in which certain groups would receive the coronavirus vaccine, although it highlights certain vulnerable groups as a higher priority for global impact, with some flexibility based on each country's particular needs. Ruth Faden, who consults as a member of the working group that helped draft the framework, said that local transmission patterns, the general quantity of vaccine supplies and a nation's infrastructure all will influence distribution tactics.

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