Since August, members of the Colorado Vaccine Distribution Joint Task Force have perfected their plan mobilizing a logistical network unlike any other in American history for the COVID-19 vaccine.
"We have personnel from the governor's office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the department of public safety, and the Colorado National Guard working together," said Brigadier General Scott Sherman, director of the task force. "We are ready to execute as soon as we receive it."
The FDA advisory committee voted Thursday afternoon to recommend approval for emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. A final FDA decision is expected within days.
Colorado is set to receive 46,800 doses in the first round. Those doses are intended to go to healthcare staff and frontline workers who deal with COVID patients every day.
The operation has mobilized private and public entities across the country in a supply chain that eventually reaches hospitals in Colorado both urban and rural.
However, several key necessities have made the distribution difficult.
The primary difficulty revolves around the requirement that the doses must be stored at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), which is colder than the surface of Mars. UPS and Fedex, which will be delivering the shipments to Colorado and across the country, have outfitted their planes and trucks to accommodate these requirements. They have also begun producing thousands of pounds of dry ice every day.
Once the doses arrive in Colorado, the National Guard takes over the distribution.
"It is no different than fuel, no different than ammunition, no different than repair parts," said Sherman, explaining the supply chain logistics that keep an army functioning. "We deal with that all the time in the military."
After the vaccine reaches the distribution points, mainly hospitals for the first round, the most important challenge will be to get healthcare and front-line workers vaccinated. For the Pfizer vaccine, after it has been brought to room temperature, the contents will expire in a matter of days. However, hospital staff say they are prepared as well.
"It speaks to the age of medicine that we live in that this virus was detected about a year ago," said Joshua Sanchez, an infectious disease pharmacist at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center. "A lot of resources, a lot of minds, a lot of time have gone into this a lot of planning."
The logistics chain, executing a military-like undertaking, has coordinated hospital facilities, shipping networks and governmental entities to streamline the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.
"It's a team effort, everybody has a role," Sanchez explained. "Everybody's rising to the challenge."