Soldiers and Airmen from the Connecticut National Guard load boxes of face masks

Soldiers and Airmen from the Connecticut National Guard load boxes of face masks into a vehicle at West Hartford Public Works, West Hartford, Conn., on Sept. 30. The Connecticut National Guard is helping the state Department of Education and Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security distribute 600,000 masks to school districts throughout the state. 

WASHINGTON – U.S. military personnel won’t be administering COVID-19 vaccines to the American people once the inoculations are approved for use. However, the armed forces will lend its experienced hand in logistics to ensure the vaccine is available across the nation, emphasized Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans will get a vaccine that no federal employee, including those within the Department of Defense, has touched,” Mango said Friday during a teleconference regarding Operation Warp Speed, the DOD and HHS effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

“That said ... we have the best logisticians in the world at the Department of Defense, working in conjunction with the CDC, to guide ... every logistical detail you could possibly think of.”

That effort, Mango noted, involves things such as the movement and distribution of needles, syringes, swabs, adhesive bandages and dry ice. It will require trucks and aircraft for shipping, and professional load teams to ensure products arrive and are unloaded on schedule.

“Gen. (Gustave) Perna and his team ... are guiding all of that with scores of folks from the CDC and DOD,” Mango said. “We will have an operation center that will tell us at any given time exactly where every dose of vaccine is.”

Those operation centers, he said, will be similar to the ones set up for signficant events like hurricanes.

“We’re going to have one just for vaccines that Gen. Perna, his team and the CDC are going to man 24 hours a day,” Mango acknowledged. “They will know where every vaccine dose is. If a vaccine dose is at risk of expiring, they will guide the movement of that product to someplace else.”

What Mango also said, however, is that federal military personnel will not be involved in touching the vaccine or administering it to Americans. He did add that if governors want their own National Guard personnel to be involved as part of a state-run effort, they will do that at their discretion.

“The federal military will not be involved in moving any doses or injecting any vaccines,” he reiterated.

The Operation Warp Speed discussion also touched on the need for volunteers. Dr. Matt Hepburn, vaccine lead for Operation Warp Speed, said at least six candidates are required for each clinical trial.

“We are anticipating large-scale clinical trials – as many as 30,000 patients each for these products,” Hepburn said. “Therefore, we do need more people to be willing to sign up. ... If people are looking for a way they can help us, and frankly help the nation, fight this pandemic, one of the ways they can do that is volunteer for these clinical trials."

Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. surgeon general, said he has been impressed, so far, with the diversity of candidates who’ve volunteered, and he said such diversity is important in a vaccine trial.

Vaccine candidate developer Moderna, for instance, announced it had completed enrollment on its Phase 3 clinical trial. Of the 30,000 participants, 37 percent are part of minority populations, with over 10 percent from African-American communities.

“We want to applaud the recruitment outreach that’s been done by Moderna,” Adams acknowledged. “They were able to turn around what were initially low minority participation rates by removing barriers and meeting folks where they are and by harnessing relations with researchers who have long-standing trust with minority communities. ... We need this to continue for other trials.”

Adams said those wishing to participate in trials for one of the COVID-19 vaccines can do so by visiting coronavirus.gov.

Operation Warp Speed is a partnership between the DOD and HHS. Specific HHS components involved include the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.