COVID-19 continues to challenge, Part 4

By Kirstin Grace-SimonsNovember 25, 2020

MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – Editor’s Note: This is a four-part series on the symptoms, interventions, impacts and future relating to COVID-19. Watch this location for more installments.

Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., first published a story on COVID-19 in January. The virus has consumed every day since; and it rages on. Where does that leave a pandemic-weary world?

Hope on the Horizon

In the past couple of weeks the news has come out that multiple vaccine trials are producing encouraging results. With upwards of 90 percent efficacy and initial reports of few reactions, a viable vaccine could be available to some parts of the population before year’s end.

Frontline health care workers and high-risk individuals would likely receive a vaccine first, with a rollout to the general public in the following months.

Operation Warp Speed presser
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar discusses Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to get a COVID-19 vaccine to the public as quickly as possible at a press conference shared on Nov. 18. He is flanked by the initiative’s chief advisor, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, and chief operations officer, U.S. Army Gen. Gustave Perna. (Photo Credit: still taken from video courtesy of Department of Defense) VIEW ORIGINAL

The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed has brought experts together to develop a vaccine and a plan to distribute it at a rapid pace.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor for Operation Warp Speed, explained in a press conference on Nov. 18 the factors that have allowed a quicker pace for the development of this vaccine than most.

“We took financial risks to invest in parallel in very large clinical trials, as well as in manufacturing, before we knew whether these vaccines, would be effective or not,” Slaoui described. “The trials are about two, three, maybe even four times larger than what's required normally. The reason we've done that was to be able to accrue enough cases faster by having more people into the trial. But the other reason we have done that is because by running larger trials, we're able to document the safety of these vaccines on larger populations, then have higher confidence in their safety before we use in the population.”

Slaoui also pointed out that trials and follow-up will continue after the vaccine gains emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This continued research will confirm safety and efficacy that have been seen thus far, and track any concerns that may arise.

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Luke Mease, the chief of Preventive Medicine at Madigan, expressed his view on the approach being taken in developing the vaccine, and addressed safety specifically at the JBLM town hall.

“I would say that the data suggests that it's happening appropriately; all the timelines are being met. Prominent national experts are backing this and saying, ‘Yeah, the FDA is taking the right steps, things are moving the right way,’ so I think we can be confident,” opined Mease.

Dr. Mease
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Luke Mease, the chief of Preventive Medicine at Madigan Army Medical Center shots a video on staying healthy during COVID-19 by getting a flu shot on Sept. 17. (Photo Credit: Ryan Graham) VIEW ORIGINAL

The military has been engaged in planning for distribution of a vaccine for months.

U.S. Army Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, discussed, in the aforementioned press conference, the expectation for getting the vaccine into American arms.

“We will begin distribution of the vaccine within 24 hours after emergency use authorization is approved,” he said. “Every jurisdiction will have access immediately.”

He explained the distribution plan is broken into 64 jurisdictions, those being the 50 states, 8 territories and 6 metropolitan cities.

Following the introduction of the vaccine, “We will begin a weekly cadence of delivery of vaccine,” said Perna. “So, initial push and then continuous cadence of delivery of vaccine to ensure that we rapidly expand the availability to the entire country.”

These videos can be found online in the following places.

The video produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services entitled, “Tell Me More About Vaccines” with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner and other HHS leaders that can be viewed at: This explains how vaccines are developed in general, and how the COVID-19 ones are being trialed and manufactured simultaneously in order to speed their eventual delivery to Americans.

A link to the press conference with HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Slaoui and Perna, discussing vaccine development and distribution planning can be found within an article on the Department of Defense website called, “Officials Optimistic About COVID-19 Vaccines in Near Future.” That can be accessed at

End in Sight

This year started with little indication of what was in store. Madigan and the Military Health System have answered the unusual call that this virus has presented with adapted operations, to include vastly expanded virtual health care, a constantly engaged staff, even when working remotely, and plans to deliver vaccine as soon as possible to stem the tide of illness and death from COVID-19.

After a year of physical, mental, emotional, professional, social and financial hardship for the world and certainly the U.S. from this virus, a real turning point is within view.

Perna, in discussing military delivery of the vaccine to the waiting nation, could have easily been talking about Madigan and the JBLM community’s response to the virus itself.

“It is a large task, but it is a task that we are up for,” he said.

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