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Next steps for COVID-19 vaccine distribution are a 'logistical nightmare': former HHS Secretary

·3 min read

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee is set to review the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer, which applied for emergency use authorization from the agency. If the vaccine receives the FDA’s approval, Americans could start getting vaccinated in just a matter of weeks.

But distributing the vaccine to more than 300 million people won’t come without hurdles — Pfizer’s ultra-cold storage requirement adds a logistical challenge. And the Trump administration has not yet laid out a concrete plan on how vaccine distribution will be handled.

“I’m very concerned about what seems to be the lack of a coherent plan,” said former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “They have refused to use the muscle, the logistical strength, the financial leverage of the federal government for any other part of this pandemic response and that’s a huge problem.”

Sebelius served as HHS Secretary under President Obama and oversaw the government’s response to the H1N1 outbreak, including the bulk vaccine purchase against the virus, and its distribution.

“They do not have a plan right now to use the federal muscle, the federal logistics, the federal government beyond getting the vaccine into states. And then it’s up to governors,” she told Yahoo Finance. “We’ve seen that playbook. It is a failure”

In this image released on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2020, the first Mobile Hybrid Container Solution made by MECOTEC with an active deep cooling technology for transport, storage and distribution of COVID-19-Vaccines down to - 80°C / -112 °F. Press release and media available to download at www.apmultimedianewsroom.com/newsaktuell. Handout image - see Special Instructions. (MECOTEC/news aktuell via AP Images)
In this image released on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2020, the first Mobile Hybrid Container Solution made by MECOTEC with an active deep cooling technology for transport, storage and distribution of COVID-19-Vaccines down to - 80°C / -112 °F. Press release and media available to download at www.apmultimedianewsroom.com/newsaktuell. Handout image - see Special Instructions. (MECOTEC/news aktuell via AP Images)

The White House has been criticized for its response to the pandemic, as well as the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline workers. Instead, the Trump administration relied on a patchwork of states and local municipalities to handle the procurement and distribution of PPE to health care workers.

It’s a response that some point to as evidence that the White House will “bungle” coronavirus vaccine distribution to the hundreds of millions of Americans who will seek to become inoculated.

“I think we may see a repeat of that with the vaccine — [a] real mishmash of efforts,” Sebelius explained. “States are left on their own. Some have resources, some lack the resources.”

“All state governments lack the resources because of the failure of Congress to push through another relief package,” she said, adding that the federal government will “say we did our job, our hands are clean. We got vaccines to the states. Well that doesn't get it into the arms of the population who needs it.”

Sebelius said that Americans could use help and support from the Trump administration. Without it, she said, “we may see a lot of missteps along the way.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter and anchor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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