In 1961, President John F. Kennedy demanded that science bend to humankind's aspirations. Before a joint session of Congress, JFK insisted that by the end of the decade the United States would land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth. Soon after at Rice University, JFK declared, "the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.”
In a defiant declaration challenging the politics and science of the day, Kennedy affirmed, “We choose to go to the Moon.” A half-century later, America has triumphed again. This time in an unprecedented private-public partnership intent on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s Moon Shot is Operation Warp Speed, and it is a multi-faceted effort that – less than a year ago – committed to create, test, and distribute an effective vaccination for COVID-19. The first vaccines were shipped out Sunday of this week and the first vaccination was administered on Monday, to an ICU nurse in New York City.
What usually takes up to ten years, America’s innovative bio-pharmaceutical companies accomplished – the design and testing of a new vaccine – in less than ten months. Nothing short of remarkable – miraculous really – in the history of science and medicine.
By now we are all familiar with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine (and myriad other companies are right behind Pfizer with effective vaccines ready for market). As I write these words, the first shots are being administered to frontline health-care workers. For the first time during the COVID-19 crisis, I can state with confidence that the end of the pandemic is finally in sight.
We have – once again – bent science to our will. However, the vaccine will not save us from the coronavirus. No, more than 300 million Americans being vaccinated will save us. For that, our supermarket chains – America’s grocers and pharmacies – must be prepared to do their crucial part of Operation Warp Speed. If the ten-month timeline from vaccine development to FDA approval was a medical miracle, a robust distribution plan to make sure all Americans are vaccinated will be no less a miraculous feat. And again, America’s private sector is ready.
In a recent interview with CNBC, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen “expressed confidence about the distribution of coronavirus vaccines at its pharmacies,” saying that the grocer was “ready and anxious to get started.” The Food Institute has described how neighborhood grocery stores will operate as the central providers of COVID-19 vaccinations. “Supermarkets are working to secure storage materials for the vaccines, and other medical gear required for administering shots.”
A major component of Operation Warp Speed is distribution of the vaccine. Therefore, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has partnered with America’s grocery and pharmacy chains— such as Kroger, Albertsons, Walgreens and CVS—to provide the infrastructure to dispense the coronavirus vaccines.
Grocers are cornerstones of many communities and they have already served as important hubs for COVID-19 testing. Kroger, for instance, is the nation’s largest supermarket chain operating nearly 2,000 pharmacies in 37 states. Therefore, the fact that HHS and America’s public health community are depending upon grocery stores and pharmacies, like Kroger, to carry the load of vaccine distribution makes perfect logistical sense and will be the decisive factor in defeating the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement on vaccine distribution, HHS Secretary Alex Azar stated, “The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and health protocols have changed how we shop. America’s grocery stores have been innovative and sensitive by improving and adapting how they serve their neighbors. Supermarkets, like many in the private sector, have invested enormous resources to make stores safe for their customers and staff. For example, Kroger has invested more than $1 billion since the beginning of the pandemic to “reward associates and safeguard associates, customers and communities,” and the supermarket chain has made over 100,000 new hires during the pandemic – many of which were furloughed due to the pandemic. These investments in new hires and safety and health practices are why the grocer/pharmacy sector is well-positioned to help successfully distribute the COVID-19 vaccination to the American public.
America is halfway through its ‘COVID-19 Moon Shot’ – we made it to the moon so to speak but now we must safely return to earth. Operation Warp Speed’s development of the vaccine is a remarkable scientific achievement. However, for that achievement to be truly historic, America’s grocery stores and pharmacies are ready to deliver the vaccine to 328,000,000 Americans.
Operation Warp speed demonstrates the very best of American innovation. The Trump administration, the American bio-pharmaceutical industry, medical professionals, and America’s supermarkets, grocers, and pharmacies have all risen to the enormous task of defeating an invisible enemy.
The end is in sight.
Jerry Rogers is the editor of RealClearHealth and the host of the 'Jerry Rogers Show' on WBAL NewsRadio.