Policy Issue

Policy Watch: COVID-19 Vaccine Development

September 22, 2020

For months, society has been looking forward to a vaccine to alleviate the social and economic effects of COVID-19. Operation Warp Speed (OWS) is a national public-private partnership that supports the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutics, increased capacity for manufacturing, and a comprehensive distribution strategy. OWS transforms the traditional drug development model in the US and allows phases to happen concurrently. Over $10B has been allocated via the CARES Act and pharmaceutical companies are working on four different types of vaccine to diversify the investment. Meanwhile, the federal government has been contracting with companies to prepare for large-scale manufacturing of related components, such as vials and syringes.

While not entirely unprecedented - a vaccine was accelerated for the 2014 Ebola outbreak - the proposed speed of this initiative is extraordinary. An advantage is that research previously conducted on SARS, a related coronavirus, can be used to inform research on COVID-19. A challenge will be addressing vaccine hesitancy resulting from personal and religious beliefs about vaccines generally and safety about this vaccine specifically. The speed has led to concerns by some that safety standards will be compromised, a view that the federal government has actively worked to lessen. Additionally, certain groups, including minorities or immigrants, may be distrusting of the government or medical system.

Drug pricing and distribution must also be addressed. A portion of vaccines will be available at no cost and the government is working with providers and insurers to limit out-of-pocket costs. On September 16th, the Trump administration released the vaccine distribution strategy, but a vaccine prioritization strategy will not be available until a vaccine is proven ready for widespread implementation. Some argue that populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 should be the first to receive vaccines. Counter-arguments state that herd immunity may build more quickly in these populations, and vaccines should be provided to populations with less immunity. Certainly, more information is to come as we get closer to a vaccine.

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