Millions of Americans who are expected to receive the new COVID-19 vaccinations in coming months will need to take two doses of the drug — and the U.S. government says it will issue a vaccine card and use other tools to help people follow through with their immunizations.
"We've set up everything [in] a draconian process, where when we sent out the ancillary kits which have needles and syringes, we've included paper cards to be filled out and ... given to the individuals, reminding them of their next vaccine due date," Army Gen. Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed's chief operating officer, said at a briefing Wednesday.
People who receive the vaccine cards will be encouraged to take a photo of them or keep them in their wallet, Perna said.
Images of a sample vaccine card that were circulated after the briefing show that it will record a recipient's first and last name and date of birth along with the dates on which they received a dose of the vaccine. There are also spaces to record the vaccine's name and maker — crucial details, to ensure people get the correct second dose to complete their immunization.
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Dr. Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed's chief adviser, said, "It will be very important ... for all Americans who get the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine to have their first vaccine dose and then come back either three or four weeks later to get their second vaccine dose, to complete the immunization schedule."
Perna repeatedly described the dosage-tracking element as a "draconian" part of protecting millions of Americans against the coronavirus. He noted that Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to bring COVID-19 vaccines to the public, must be mindful of a variety of state laws regarding medical information and notifications.
States will also run their own notification programs — another important part of the plan to make sure Americans are properly vaccinated.
"We do know that pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens have established very elaborate tracking systems to set up appointments, notify people when their second shots are required," Perna said.
At the federal level, he added, "we have capability and capacity to send second-dose messages out only if and when it's in collaboration with the states' laws and regulations and policies."
Once the vaccines are distributed, they will be administered in a variety of settings, from pharmacies and doctors' offices to health clinics and special vaccination sites.
Perna said the federal operation is taking a "triple-canopy approach" to make the vaccination process effective. "And we're doing our best to capture everybody to ensure that they get their second dose," he added.
As Slaoui noted, other vaccines that are currently in the trial pipeline could do away with the two-dose requirement. He highlighted a Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate, saying some 28,000 people have now been recruited for a phase III trial.
"The breakthrough that we hope with this vaccine is that it's a one-shot vaccine with very fast efficacy achieved," Slaoui said. If it's successful as a single dose, he added, there would be "100 percent compliance, so to speak, since everybody will get one shot to get the full vaccination schedule."
Citing the need to ensure that the American public is confident that any vaccine that makes its way through the trial and testing process is safe and effective, Slaoui stated, "Vaccines are useless if they are not used to vaccinate people."
COVID-19 has now killed some 275,000 people in the U.S., with more than 14 million cases reported in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University.
News of several promising vaccines has been a rare source of optimism about the outbreak in the U.S., which is by far the worst-hit country in the world. Slaoui says he's confident the U.S. will be able to carry out tens of millions of vaccinations between now and early 2021.
Between the middle of December and the end of February, Slaoui said, "We will have potentially immunized 100 million people, which is really more or less the size of the significant at-risk population," such as the elderly, front-line workers and people with health conditions that increase their risk.
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