Gov. DeSantis traveled to Washington for talks about distributing COVID vaccines

Gov. Ron DeSantis met with federal health officials this week to discuss distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Credit: Screenshot, YouTube

After spending much of Tuesday on the Capitol’s fourth floor for the House and Senate’s organizational sessions, Gov. Ron DeSantis was off to Washington, D.C., for discussions about plans to distribute the new COVID-19 vaccines.

The governor’s public schedule for the day, issued that Tuesday evening, reflected meetings with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine program chief Paul Ostrowski, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Commission head Stephen Hawn, among other officials.

“He was up there talking about vaccine distribution — time frames, who gets it first, how it’s distributed to the states, is it distributed to hospitals, the governors? The logistics of distribution,” said Fred Piccolo, DeSantis’ communications director.

The governor had requested the briefings, Piccolo said.

Later, DeSantis had this to say on Twitter:

“As we draw near to the release of a COVID-19 vaccine, I met w/@SecAzarto discuss strategy & next steps for its distribution in Florida once available. We also discussed the availability of the new monoclonal antibody treatment & the promising prospects of this new therapeutic.”

Azar said this:

“Glad to welcome @GovRonDeSantis to @HHSgov yesterday to discuss the progress we are making under #OperationWarpSpeed and our distribution plans for safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics that will protect Floridians and Americans across the country as we work to reopen.”

Press officials at HHS have not yet responded to a request for more information. States expect to spend billions of dollars getting the virus to their people.

As of Tuesday, Florida public health officials had reported infections of 897,323 with 52,329 hospitalizations and 17,644 deaths of Floridians. Wednesday’s numbers went up: 905,248 infections and 17,731 resident deaths.

Pfizer and German pharmaceutical company BioNTech have announced they will soon seek regulatory approval for a vaccine that has demonstrated a 95 percent effectiveness rate against the coronavirus, according to published reports. Moderna Inc. has touted its own vaccine with a similar potency.

Distribution of the vaccines promises to be a huge logistical challenge. For one thing, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored and transported at temperatures of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

The federal health agencies are working with the Department of Defense to plan the process. Pfizer has developed special “suitcases” to ship supplies but many hospitals lack facilities for storing medicines at the required temperatures, according to a CBS News report.

Operation Warp Speed “is harnessing the strength of existing vaccine delivery infrastructure while leveraging innovative strategies, new public-private partnerships, and robust engagement of state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments to ensure efficient, effective, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” an HHS document — “From the Factory to the Frontlines” — says.

Florida — whose governor is a close Trump ally — is one of five states participating in pilot projects “to utilize a basic plan for administration and adapt it to create jurisdiction-specific plans that will serve as models for other jurisdictions,” the document says.

“Jurisdictions will also be responsible for laying specific groundwork for vaccinating high-risk and prioritized populations through various outreach efforts, including a work group or stakeholder groups, and forming a vaccination committee,” the document continues. One initial target will be nursing home residents.

McKesson Corp., which administered distribution of the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 and 2010, won the contract to manage the COVID vaccine distribution. The plan is to send vaccine to locations where they can be administered, possibly including health department networks and retail pharmacies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has likely accelerated a trend towards different ways of engaging with the health care system, and successful delivery of this vaccine will need to incorporate new types of sites and approaches for vaccine delivery,” the document says.

“For example, during H1N1, once vaccines became widely available pharmacies played an important role in the vaccine distribution; pharmacies’ role is even more critical to vaccinations today and will be fully integrated into the distribution plan.”

Update: This story had been updated to include tweets from Gov. DeSantis and Secretary Azar.