When this year began, none of us expected to face a global pandemic that would steal hundreds of thousands of American lives, inflict unprecedented damage on our economy, disrupt business as usual and uproot life as we know it. But although the United States certainly did not create the coronavirus crisis, our country has led in the mission to eliminate the virus and restore our way of life by seeking to deliver a vaccine in record time. As we celebrate Christmas this week and look toward 2021, I am grateful that vaccines are already beginning to reach frontline health care workers and the most vulnerable in our communities, providing hope for better days ahead.
I urge you not to miss how remarkable this achievement is for our country and for humanity. Historically, delivery of a vaccine has never been completed in less than a year. In fact, while the fastest a vaccine has been discovered and deployed is four years, the vaccine development process usually takes as long as 10-15 years. But thanks to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), two vaccines are now ready to aid in the fight against COVID-19, with more likely to be approved for emergency use in the coming days and months.
As you might know, OWS was initiated by the Trump Administration in mid-May and established a public-private partnership between relevant federal agencies – including the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense – and pharmaceutical companies. Since it was created, OWS has not only supported some of the scientific vaccine research but it has enabled more rapid development and testing of vaccine candidates. This accelerated timeline is not from cutting corners or sacrificing safety. It is made possible by smart adaptations to the usual process. Notably, OWS has allowed promising vaccine candidates to undergo clinical trials at essentially the same time as regulatory approval and preparation for mass production. Moreover, OWS has led to the pre-purchase of hundreds of millions of doses. That means that once a vaccine candidate is deemed safe and effective and approved for emergency use, it can be distributed almost immediately.
Indeed, we have already begun to see this rapid distribution happen with the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and with Moderna’s soon to follow. Because the federal government pre-purchased hundreds of millions of vaccine doses months ago, manufacturing could take place at the same time as clinical trials. Since the testing and manufacturing steps in the process were simultaneous, that enabled the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to start shipping out immediately after receiving emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The first doses arrived in Oklahoma just a few days later and reached Lawton’s own Comanche County Memorial Hospital, where the ultra-cold freezer necessary is available and can serve as a safe and central storage site supporting distribution efforts in Southwest Oklahoma.
At the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician and to demonstrate my total confidence in our nation’s vaccine efforts, I received my first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine over the weekend. While vaccinations are a personal decision, defeating this terrible coronavirus is a war we must fight and win together. We can all do our part by taking the free-of-charge vaccine as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, please continue taking the same practical precautions we have learned this year to slow the spread of COVID-19. Please continue to wear a mask, social distance and frequently wash your hands. For details and ongoing updates on Oklahoma’s four-phase vaccine distribution plan, please visit oklahoma.gov/covid19/vaccine-information.