U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on November 19th, 2020 issued the following message to Alaskans after receiving an extensive briefing on Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership to develop and distribute a vaccine for COVID-19. The briefing for all U.S. senators was hosted by General Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, and Doctor Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific advisor for the operation. In the briefing, senators were informed that two companies developing COVID-19 vaccines are seeking emergency-use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which could be issued by mid-December, followed soon after by distribution of vaccines on a per capita basis to individual states.
Good afternoon, Alaska. I wanted to make sure that—as we’ve done throughout the pandemic—the challenges we’ve been facing as a state and as a country, whenever I’ve gotten briefings from senior officials in charge of the response, I’ve tried to get that information out as quickly as possible for all of you. This morning, participating with the vast majority of U.S. senators, we were given an update on Operation Warp Speed.
This was something that I was very focused on in the CARES Act to make sure there was significant funding for the rapid development of therapeutics and a vaccine. This morning, we were briefed by the two senior leaders of Operation Warp Speed—General Perna, who is the COO and logistics lead for the entire operation, and Dr. Slaoui, who is the chief scientist for Operation Warp Speed.
The briefing, I will say, presents some good news. You have to be cautiously optimistic with regard to the pandemic, therapeutics, and the vaccine. But, as we’re seeing challenging times in Alaska and throughout the country, I thought it was important to provide, directly from them, what they are seeing.
The bottom line is there are two companies that you have been reading about, I’m sure, in the press that are likely to have FDA approval very soon, with more companies coming online probably soon thereafter. They are expecting to have upwards of 20 million vaccines by next month, and to start administering these as well. Then they will, week by week, continue to administer the vaccine to Americans across the country with the goal that, they estimate right now, by the end of May to have pretty much the entire country vaccinated for those Americans who choose to have a vaccine.
This is pretty remarkable news. Vaccines normally take eight to ten years to develop and get tested. There were a lot of opportunities for questions. The focus of when and how and who will be vaccinated first, and in what order, is primarily being left with the states. Our state right now is putting together a plan, in coordination with Operation Warp Speed and the federal government, on exactly the priorities of where, when, who and how will get this vaccine, and in what order. That will be done at the state level, state by state.
I did ask about the logistical challenges that we have with regard to delivery of the vaccine, especially in a place like our great state that has a huge territorial expanse and a limited population size. We want to be able to make sure everybody has access to this.
The general told me that, similar to testing, they are very focused on Alaska. They recognize our challenges. They recognize the long distances. They recognize the lack of medical capacity in many of our villages. They recognize the challenges that can come with weather. He said they are very focused on making sure that Alaska is at the top of their areas of concern on the logistics.
In terms of distribution, the original vaccines are going to be distributed on a per capita basis. Each state, given the size of its population, is going to get the vaccine quantities that reflect how big the population of the state is.
In terms of continuing what we need to be focused on, of course, Alaska, like the rest of the country, continues to be challenged with dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases. People need to continue to abide by state and federal guidelines—social distancing, other elements and wearing masks to make sure that we are limiting the spread. But I thought that this was very important news. In many ways, (it is) light at the end of the tunnel.
We need to be cautiously optimistic here, but as soon as I got this briefing, I wanted to make sure that all Alaskans were available to get the same information as my office. We will continue to update everybody as we get information on, not only the development of vaccines, but there was also a briefing on the development of therapeutics, which is also dramatically improving the survivability of Americans who are getting COVID-19 and reducing, relative to last April and March and May, the hospitalization rates.
As we continue to get this information on vaccines and therapeutics from senior officials in the federal government, I will continue, with my team in my office, to get this information out to as many Alaskans as possible. Thank you.