Vice President Mike Pence visited Memphis last Thursday to discuss progress with “Operation Warp Speed,” the federal governments push to find a vaccine.
Air Force Two arrived Thursday afternoon at the Memphis International Airport, with Pence, Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar disembarking to be greeted by Lee and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.
Also in attendance were Tennessee Commissioner of Health Lisa Piercey, numerous FedEx representatives, Patrick Sheehan with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and Wendy Long, CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association.
The group gathered at a live-streamed roundtable to discuss that state’s current COVID-19 numbers and vaccination plans.
Lee praised the work done by the Trump administration, and boasted on Tennessee’s “strong, regimented approach” to COVID-19, despite climbing case numbers and the recent decision to roll out National Guard assistance to hospitals across the state.
Pence agreed optimistically with Lee’s statement, but cautioned viewers that the state was still going through a “challenging time.”
“With cases rising across the country, we are still going through a challenging time,” said Pence. “Help is on the way. We are just days away from being able to distribute a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.”
As discussed on page X, two vaccines companies—Moderna and Pfizer—are working on getting emergency authorization for vaccine distribution throughout the U.S. Tennessee will be one of the first four states to receive the Pfizer vaccine after approval.
Raj Subramaniam, FedEx’s chief operating officer, acting as a spokesperson for the FedEx force that will be responsible for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the state, expressed the dedication of his staff to distributing the vaccines.
“The global health crisis of this scale requires a network of our scale,” he said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar went into further detail.
“The distribution of the physical vaccine from the factory to the frontlines will generally be done by the healthcare distributor McKesson, which works with FedEx and other partners who do the actual shipping,” he said. “In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, Pfizer will ship directly through FedEx, and we will use Mckesson to marry their product up with the vaccination administration kit that Operation Warp Speed has procured and assembled—with over 100 million assembled already.”
Pence expressed that he expects vaccines to begin shipment within 24 hours of approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which could come as early as this Thursday.
The first doses, according to Pence, could be administered within 24 hours of distribution.
Piercey added that Tennessee will first receive 56,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Frontline healthcare workers are designated to be the first to receive the vaccine.
Another major issue discussed was the possibility of a population reluctant to take the vaccine.
“One of the challenges is to see whether we have an environment that the American people want to take a vaccine,” said Redfield.
For those who do not want to take the vaccine, Lee reassured that it will not be mandatory.
"Vaccines are a choice,” he said in an earlier statement. “And people have the choice and will have the choice in this state as to whether or not they should take that vaccine."