- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2020

The Trump administration announced Friday that McKesson Corporation will be a “central distributor” of any COVID-19 vaccine and related supplies as the government prepares for an unprecedented public health effort.

Worth nearly $178 million, it is the first major distribution contract doled out under Operation Warp Speed, a White House initiative led by the Department of Health and Human Services and Defense Department.

The deal stems from an existing contract that was awarded to McKesson, a well-known pharmaceutical distributor, after a competitive bidding process in 2016, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

That contract, which supports the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’s Vaccines for Children Program, included an option for the distribution of vaccines in case of a pandemic.

McKesson played a key role in distributing the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 and is the largest seasonal flu-vaccine distributor in the U.S. All told, the company dispatches 150 million doses of all vaccines per year.

“Today’s announcement puts another building block in place as the nation moves toward a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said.

HHS officials said McKesson will work under CDC’s guidance to distribute a vaccine, once one is approved.

In a statement, the company said it will deliver vaccines and supplies to point-of-care sites “at the U.S. government’s direction.”

“Since the onset of the pandemic, McKesson has leveraged our deep expertise to help maintain the integrity of the health care supply chain, source and distribute personal protective equipment to front-line workers and stand up COVID-19 testing at Health Mart pharmacies, many in underserved communities,” said McKesson CEO Bryan Tyler. “We are honored that the U.S. government has asked McKesson to play a key role in the effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.”

President Trump is hoping to land a successful vaccine as soon as possible to gain control of a pandemic that’s infected at least 5 million Americans, killing over 167,000.

Vaccine candidates from leading drugmakers are being tested in massive, phase-3 human trials, with results expected by the end of the year or January 2021.

In the meantime, the government is putting in place the tools and procedures needed to get the shots out the door quickly.

The administration says the Defense Department will play a role in standing up the manufacturing capacity and manpower needed to produce the vaccine en masse.

Officials want to provide the shots to all Americans at no cost, with an initial rollout of tens of millions of doses that will be administered to priority groups.

“I would think the elderly, people who are most vulnerable to the disease,” Mr. Trump told a reporter whoa asked Friday which groups would get it first.

Health workers who treat infected persons are considered a top priority, too.

Mr. Trump signaled he’d be willing to receive the vaccine, personally.

“I’ll go first or last,” he said. “I’ll do whatever they want me to do.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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