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HHS releases $22 billion for testing and vaccinations 

To get shots in arms faster, HHS has begun its partnership with 19 pharmacy chains.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are releasing more than $22 billion in funding to help states, territories and localities provide testing and vaccinations.

The money is part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act recently passed by Congress. 

More than $19 billion will be allocated to jurisdictions through the existing CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity cooperative agreement to support testing, contract tracing, surveillance, containment, and mitigation to monitor and suppress the spread of COVID-19. 

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Over $3 billion will be made available in an initial award to jurisdictions through the existing CDC Immunization and Vaccines for Children cooperative agreement. 
 
Award recipients will include 64 jurisdictions, including all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five major cities, and U.S. territories/islands. The funds will be allocated by a population-based formula.  

OPERATION WARP SPEED

While vaccine doses are available, not as many shots are getting into arms as Operation Warp Speed would like to see.

"We've been examining the challenges that have slowed the ramp-up," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said this week.

To date, more than 20 million doses of vaccines have been allocated and more than 14 million delivered across states, territories and to five federal entities.  

An estimated 6 million people had received their first dose as of January 7, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Operation Warp Speed Chief Operation Officer Army General Gus Perna said efforts were hampered by the holiday season and three major snowstorms. But by the end of the quarter, he believes that both Pfizer and Moderna – the two companies currently approved for a vaccine – will meet the requirement of a 100 million doses each.

"We've seen the rate of vaccinations increase in recent days," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. 

To speed up the vaccination process, OWS announced an early launch of its distribution partnership with 19 pharmacy chains.  

The CDC is sending information to states on the partnership. Governors still oversee distribution. Azar advised governors not to be overly prescriptive about phase vaccine groups, so as not to waste any vials that are sitting in cold storage.

Operation Warp Speed Chief Science Advisor Dr. Moncef Slaoui said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose, continues to be on track for emergency use authorization by the end of this month. 

AstraZeneca is on track with its Phase 3 trials, and Novavax announced the start of its Phase 3 study in the U.S. and Mexico. 
 
TESTING

The COVID-19 testing program will continue to operate into April 2021 as a result of a $550 million funding extension.

The Community Based Testing Site program works through a partnership with national pharmacy and retail chains CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, Quest (through services at Walmart) and service provider eTrueNorth (through services at Health Mart and Topco locations). 

The partnership has resulted in establishing more than 3,300 COVID-19 testing locations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. To date, more than 5.6 million tests have been conducted, HHS said. 

The Community Based Testing Site program began in the spring of 2020 and includes a large percentage – more than 70% – of testing sites located in communities with moderate-to-high social vulnerability, as evidenced by their racial and ethnic composition, their household composition, their socioeconomic status, and similar considerations.

THERAPEUTICS DEVELOPMENT

As of Wednesday, the U.S. government had allocated over 530,000 monoclonal antibodies to the healthcare system. States and territories can allocate these drugs to a variety of settings: hospitals, alternate care facilities, infusion centers, long-term care facilities, and other outpatient facilities. About 80% of these treatment courses remain available.

ON THE RECORD

"Operation Warp Speed delivered by the end of 2020 two FDA-authorized antibody treatments, two FDA-authorized vaccines, five vaccine candidates in Phase 3 clinical trials, and 20 million first doses of vaccine allocated, with the second doses on hand ready to be shipped a few weeks later. This is unprecedented and historic," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
 
Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com