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Defense Experience, Capabilities Further 'Herculean' Operation Warp Speed Efforts

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2020) -- Since announced in May the "Operation Warp Speed" program has worked to develop, manufacture and distribute medical countermeasures for COVID-19. Along with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Defense Department is an integral part of that effort, said the DOD's chief of supply and distribution for OWS.

"HHS was never manned to be able to simultaneously and as rapidly go through clinical trials, go through the development, go through the manufacturing, and then distribute six separate vaccines in a pandemic environment," said Paul A. Ostrowski. "That is a Herculean task. What we bring is a bandwidth and the enablers to allow that to happen -- not only for vaccines, but also for therapeutics."

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What capabilities and experience does DOD bring to the OWS effort? It turns out quite a bit -- mostly stemming from the fact that the DOD has decades of experience making and managing large contract purchases with the private sector and also handling the logistics of distributing what it buys globally.

At the top of the list, Ostrowski said, the department brings program management and contracting expertise to OWS. That involves not only helping OWS to get contracts awarded, but also to administer those contracts after they are awarded.

"Getting exactly what the government has paid for by each one of these particular companies is extremely important," Ostrowski said. "[That] program manager and contracting experience and expertise is critical to our successful mission here at OWS."

Logistical support is something else the DOD brings to the table, including the ability to secure supply chains for manufacturers of vaccines, Ostrowski said.

"The manufacturing capacity within the United States for vaccines ... did not meet the amount of demand that we're going to get with respect to this COVID pandemic," Ostrowski said. The DOD has assisted in securing supply chains for the vaccine manufacturers, including finding both raw materials and equipment to manufacture the vaccines.

Operational planning and information technology experience and expertise is something the department has brought to the table, as well. Many of the vaccines under consideration now, Ostrowski said, will require more than one dosage. That means people getting the vaccine will need to come back more than once to get the complete vaccine regimen. Health care professionals who administer the vaccine will need to track what particular vaccine patients got for the first dose, so that when they come back a second time, they get the correct vaccine.

While privately run health care providers maintain their own databases to track such information, those independent systems may not talk to one another -- and that means that if a vaccine recipient goes for a second dose at a different facility, information about his or her first dose might not be available.

"What we're in the process of doing is being able to help allow those different databases to talk with one another through a data link that we're developing and testing as we speak," Ostrowski said.

When the Defense Department awards a contract to a company, it sometimes puts DOD personnel inside that company to ensure the contract is handled according to the department's specifications and the contract is running smoothly. That's also a capability the DOD is providing to the Operation Warp Speed effort.

"Having people in plants, controlling supply chain management, and ensuring that the contracts -- the terms of the contract with each one of these companies -- is being lived up to, that is extremely important, as we ensure that America's taxpayer dollars do not go to waste," Ostrowski said.

Also, the department has helped build capacity for the nation's vaccine manufacturing capability, he said.

"The production capacity for vaccines in the United States did not sit on the shelf," Ostrowski said. "It's not out there. We had to develop it; we had to build it -- whether it be brick and mortar, whether it be the tooling itself. The role of the Corps of Engineers has been critical in this as we went through the process of getting our manufacturing capacities to where they need to be."

Operation Warp Speed is a partnership between the DOD and the HHS. The HHS components involved include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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