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Texas-based McKesson tapped to help get coronavirus vaccines into American communities

Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Published 8:41 p.m. ET Aug. 14, 2020

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USA TODAY

The U.S. government has chosen medical supplier McKesson to be a centralized distributor for future COVID-19 vaccines, a crucial step in creating a pipeline to get any eventual vaccines into American arms and stop the pandemic.

“Today’s announcement puts another building block in place as the nation moves toward a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement.  

President Donald Trump announced the collaboration Friday, saying the United States had three vaccine candidates in Phase 3 clinical trials.

“We’re ready logistically to distribute them, our military is ready,” Trump said. 

Distribution is a key component to getting a vaccine to as many Americans as possible as quickly as possible, once one or more become available.

Several of the current candidate vaccines must be kept at extremely low temperatures — as much as -112 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature requirement will add to the complexity of distribution. 

“In terms of infrastructure, we need as much cold chain equipment and ultrafreezers as we can lay our hands on,” said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow and medical supply chain effort at the Center for Global Development in Washington D.C. 

Exactly what agency will be coordinating the overall distribution isn’t clear. Historically that would have come under the purview of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees the Vaccines for Children Program responsible for vaccinating more than half the children in the United States.

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However Operation Warp Speed, the White House task force which has thus far spent more than $9 billion to develop vaccines, has said the Department of Defense will be tasked with the job.

Friday’s Health and Human Services announcement said McKesson will work under the guidance of the CDC to ship the vaccines to sites where they will be administered.

Detailed planning is underway to ensure rapid distribution of one or more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, HHS said in a release.

McKesson is a major distributor of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies based in Irving, Texas.

It has an existing contract option with the CDC to support vaccine distribution, a contract that includes an option for the distribution of vaccines in the event of a pandemic, the HHS statement said. 

The company has previous experience doing such distribution. In 2009 – 2010 it distributed the H1N1 vaccine during the H1N1 pandemic.

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