There have been conflicting reports in the media regarding what factors are slowing down the delivery and administration of COVID-19 vaccinations. However, the overarching reality is that the pace of administering these vaccines needs to ramp up on an immediate basis. According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), in order for the U.S. to vaccinate approximately 80% of our population to reach herd immunity by June of 2021, 3 million inoculations a day would have to be administered. The current vaccination pace is far below that level. To that end, listed below are recommendations for helping to increase the speed of the COVID-19 vaccination delivery process in the United States and its Territories:
1. President Biden has outlined a plan to use his authority under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to enlist companies to help manufacturer the vaccines and the equipment needed to administer the vaccines. The DPA should also be used to enlist companies to manufacture refrigerated trucks and containers, dry ice, and the ultra low temperature storage units needed to store the Pfizer vaccine in sizes that will fit in a variety of different aircraft. Such an order would enable the use of the Civil Air Patrol and Volunteer Pilot Organizations to help deliver the vaccines nationwide, especially in rural/remote areas.
2. Many States and local jurisdictions are reporting that a shortage of vaccine doses has caused them to cancel appointments that were made by their citizens to receive the vaccine. Yet Pfizer and Moderna have reported that they can manufacture the amount of vaccine supply that is currently in demand. States and local jurisdictions also have understaffed Health Departments and need federal assistance to form a more comprehensive and uniform vaccine delivery network. A federally coordinated plan to use the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and Volunteer Pilot Organizations (such as the Disaster Airlift Response Team [DART] in Washington State) would assist in this effort. DHS/FEMA has already asked the CAP for this type of assistance in northern Michigan. FEMA could coordinate and expand the use of CAP and Volunteer Pilot Organizations across the U.S. and its Territories.
3. The FAA would need to approve allowing increased use of dry ice on the large commercial planes currently carrying the vaccines in order to increase the vaccine quantities loaded onto each plane. But, that has brought up safety concerns and legal complexities regarding a chemical compound contained in dry ice. Using a larger fleet of planes would help eliminate that complication. The Civil Air Patrol is the official Auxiliary Unit of the United States Air Force and has 1600 local units spread across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. CAP is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit entity, and as such, only needs to be reimbursed for fuel and maintenance costs. FEMA funding could be used to pay those costs on a large scale basis nationwide.
4. Additionally, there are a number of volunteer organizations consisting of pilots who normally provide free transportation to medical patients. Some of those organizations have already assisted in delivering COVID-19 vaccination equipment and supplies. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), located in Frederick, MD, has information on such groups on its website. The fixed wing aircraft used by both CAP and volunteer pilots are flexible and can land in many places that large commercial aircraft cannot land located away from large airports. CAP pilots can land at 5,000 public use airports in the U.S. FEMA should explore enlisting the immediate aid of these organizations to assist in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.
B.A. Mills, FEMA