ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – The U.S. Army Sustainment Command is using a military base camp solution to support COVID-19 vaccine research.
Ongoing clinical trials supported by ASC have been an important part of Operation Warp Speed’s mission to develop and deliver a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We leveraged ASC’s global military logistics expertise to rapidly deploy trailers to accommodate the size and scope of vaccine trials,” said Brian Almonrode, who serves as ASC’s director of operations for the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, or LOGCAP.
Almonrode said ASC was able to rapidly deploy specialized trailers fitted to meet specific requirements set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
LOGCAP is best known for its use in setting up and maintaining base camps in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas where U.S. troops are deployed. In times of national emergency, LOGCAP can also be used to support domestic operations.
Operation Warp Speed needed the capability to enable vaccine trials. While most clinical trials include about 3,000 participants, each of Operation Warp Speed’s six vaccine candidates expanded trials to include a minimum of 30,000 people.
Gen. Gus Perna, chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, called upon LOGCAP to shore up testing support shortly after the mission took shape during the early months of the pandemic.
“LOGCAP provided us both speed and flexibility to provide safe and efficient testing accommodations at the appropriate scale,” Perna said. “Even as we begin to deliver vaccines, clinical trials will continue to play an important role for some time to come.”
The LOGCAP effort to support the trials started early and was quick to come to fruition, Almonrode said.
“I had several meetings with the Operation Warp Speed staff and other partner agencies to discuss and implement the clinical facility expansion project,” Almonrode said.
Task orders can be issued under LOGCAP on an as-needed basis upon the request of combatant commanders and others requiring LOGCAP services.
To get the trailers in place in time to assist with the vaccine trials, ASC worked with the U.S. Army Contracting Command-Rock Island to issue task orders under a contract with the U.S. Northern Command. KBR and DynCorp, two of the companies holding LOGCAP contracts, received the work under the task orders.
The budget for the clinical facility expansion project is currently over $90 million.
The contractors were tasked with setting up and maintaining trailers where clinical trials could be conducted. In most cases, Almonrode said, the trailers are set up near existing medical clinics, though others are stand-alone facilities.
Almonrode said the LOGCAP trailers are the type commonly found at construction sites. Each trailer measures 60 feet long by 12 feet wide.
ASC worked with experts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research to develop a design for the trailers and set technical specifications.
“We have plenty of experience working with trailers, but we’ve never done anything like this before,” Almonrode said.
The layout for the trailers includes reception areas, vaccine administration and examination rooms, storage space, and staff break areas, along with an area where personal protective equipment can be put on and taken off. The trailers require utilities such as onsite power generation, water, and wastewater removal, with adequate climate control and access to Wi-Fi.
Because most vaccines require refrigeration or freezers, the trailers need a robust source of electricity with back-up power available in the event of a utility outage.
The trailers were designed in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide full accessibility to those with physical disabilities and limitations. Almonrode noted that ASC partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in assuring ADA compliance, due to the Corps’ expertise in this area.
The final design for the trailers was reviewed and approved by Army and government health experts and the pharmaceutical companies conducting the vaccine trials. Almonrode said that a technical exhibit was then developed for the contractors, who were tasked with modifying construction trailers per the requirements shown in the exhibit.
The first trailers were set up last July. When the project is complete, 142 trailers will be in place in 61 different locations across the nation.
The trailers are being used by four pharmaceutical companies conducting clinical trials: AstraZeneca, Janssen, Moderna, and Sanofi Pasteur.
The contractors are responsible for maintaining the trailers and for responding to work orders that can be called in via a “hotline” number posted in every trailer.
“So far, it has gone very smoothly, and the trailers are functioning well,” he said.
Members of the LOGCAP Support Brigade, an Army Reserve unit assigned to ASC, have been activated and deployed to support the project and to inspect the trailers and provide on-site coordination with contractors. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also assisting with inspections.
In locations where the trailers supplement an existing clinic, they can serve as a site to isolate volunteers who may be infected with the coronavirus, and so can be examined without needing to enter a building.
Almonrode said one of the main challenges faced during the project was obtaining approval from local officials to set up the trailers, and to assure compliance with zoning ordinances and health and safety regulations.
“I’ve spoken to and worked with individuals from all across the country,” Almonrode said. The importance of Operation Warp Speed and getting through the pandemic encouraged cooperation on many fronts, he noted.
The trailers could remain in place for up to two years, since clinical trials will continue with follow-up examinations even after vaccines are given to the general public.
Currently, a staff consisting of seven employees at ASC Headquarters and three more in the field – along with 14 members of the LOGCAP Support Brigade – is working in support of Operation Warp Speed. Almonrode said that staff members came from different organizations at ASC and had a variety of expertise.
“They’ve come together and done a great job under quite a bit of pressure,” Almonrode said.
“I don’t want to overstate our part in all this,” Almonrode said. “We’re playing a fairly small role in Operation Warp Speed. But we know that what we’re doing is important, and we’re excited to be part of the effort to end this pandemic.”