A Light in the Darkness: How the Army and Its Partners are Helping in the Global Fight Against COVID-19

By Mason AberleJuly 11, 2022

On average, COVID-19 kills 315 Americans every day. Over one million of our own fathers, mothers, sons and daughters have been taken away from us. This is a greater loss, in terms of human life, than the battle deaths of all American wars since the revolution, combined. Of course, COVID affects more than just our own people; it reaches across national boundaries into every corner of the globe. There is no one left who has not felt its impact. Globally, over six million are dead as a result of the virus, and in the last 24 hours alone over half of a million people were infected.

Though all are eager for its end, no one can say when the threat of COVID-19 will subside. It is clear, however, that so long as the virus continues to spread it continues to threaten American lives.

That is why for the last two and a half years the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense’s Joint Assisted Acquisition (JPEO-CBRND JA2) team, in concert with Army acquisition leadership, has served as part of the U.S. government response, working at the forefront of ensuring that global health goals are supported, and that the international community is well equipped to combat this pandemic.

JA2 sits within the DOD’s assisted acquisition cell and has the critical mission to support the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in their medical countermeasures and procurement efforts, and contract negotiations on behalf of the American people. By bringing together medical specialists, logisticians and acquisition experts under the authority of the Defense Production Act, JA2 procures life-saving medical countermeasures in record time. Most recently, they were instrumental in securing one billion COVID-19 test kits, which are available to all Americans who need them, free of charge through the U.S. Postal Service.

As President Biden stated, the effort against COVID-19 has been one of the biggest logistical challenges in American history. Indeed, meeting America’s international donation goals requires precise coordination between private companies, United Nations (UN) entities and agents, and a wide breadth of federal departments and their various subordinate offices. Having many of these partnerships already in place for domestic COVID-19 acquisitions purposes, JA2 is well positioned to aid U.S. international donation efforts.

Here at home, JA2 personnel act as program managers and regulatory support middlemen between HHS, Army Contracting Command (ACC), and policy makers at the White House. These partnerships remain mostly unchanged for international efforts: JA2 still acts as supporting contract experts and program managers, but primarily between ACC, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Gavi – the vaccine alliance, and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF and Pfizer being largely responsible for the physical delivery of the acquired vaccines.

Soldiers from the Indiana National Guard transport donated medical supplies to assist the country of Slovakia in its ongoing fight against COVID-19.
Soldiers from the Indiana National Guard transport donated medical supplies to assist the country of Slovakia in its ongoing fight against COVID-19. (Photo Credit: Spc. Jules Iradukunda) VIEW ORIGINAL

About a year after COVID-19 reached U.S. shores, the White House tasked USAID with the mission to secure vaccinations for as many low- and middle-income countries as possible (also referred to as the 92 Advance Market Commitment (AMC) countries plus 8 additional countries in Africa via the U.S. government collaboration with COVAX). USAID, however, had never undertaken contracting and acquisitions efforts this large before. Meanwhile JA2, with preexisting contracts and partnerships in place with vaccine manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer, was able to step in and help negotiate contracts alongside and on behalf of USAID and UNICEF.

Christine Sordillo, JA2’s Deputy Lead for Vaccines, Therapeutics and Enablers, put it this way: “USAID knew their mission set and had final approval authority, but they had never done anything like this before. After learning about COVID-19 acquisitions on-the-fly ourselves, we (JA2) ended up … teaching USAID all of our lessons learned from our domestic acquisitions experience. We were teaching negotiations and contracting while they were taking place.”

These lessons would immediately prove useful.

On December 08 2021, the White House announced its goal of delivering 200 million adult vaccine doses internationally via COVAX within 100 days. From the start, negotiations were focused on the AMC 92+8 nations which lacked the necessary economic resources to inoculate significant portions of their own populations, with the reasoning that if these countries receive the same access to vaccines as wealthy nations, then there is a far greater chance of saving lives, decreasing hospitalizations, and slowing the virus’ spread globally, thus making everyone in the world safer. However, many of these targeted countries have infrastructure challenges, making the physical delivery of vaccinations difficult. Some lack the necessary means to receive donations, while others had limited cold storage, needed to properly maintain the doses that they received.

Despite these challenges, JA2 and its inter-governmental partners were able to move faster than anyone had anticipated. Instead of the original goal, 200 million doses within 100 days, JA2 helped negotiate and secure the delivery 214.6 million doses three days before the target date. Over delivering and ahead of schedule, JA2, USAID, UNICEF, PAHO, Pfizer, and ACC were then called on to fulfill the White House’s new goal: 1.2 billion international vaccine donations.

Kevin Will, part of the JA2 logistics team, reports that of the one billion vaccine doses pledged for donation, over 540 million have already been secured and deliveries completed.

Though successful so far, reaching the 1.2 billion donations goal is no easy feat.

“It’s hard to say when we will reach the 1.2 billion donations goal,” Will said, “but there is a trend now, in the last three months, where shipments are going to multiple countries. The Republic of Kenya, for instance, was just able to open up their sixth installation site where they can receive vaccines, store them, and facilitate their distribution.”

Will also notes that the first of the approved pediatric vaccinations from Pfizer were taken out of warehouse on June 14. Over 2.5 million pediatric doses for children ages five to eleven are scheduled for delivery to Mongolia, Nepal and Kosovo; these three initial recipient countries are the very first to receive pediatric doses from the United States through the COVAX program.

Tunisian Minister of Health Ali Mrabet, along with U.S. and Tunisian officials, inspects a shipment of nearly half a million U.S. donated Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses that were unloaded at Aéroport International de Tunis Carthage in Tunis,...
Tunisian Minister of Health Ali Mrabet, along with U.S. and Tunisian officials, inspects a shipment of nearly half a million U.S. donated Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses that were unloaded at Aéroport International de Tunis Carthage in Tunis, Tunisia, on September 9, 2021. This is the second such shipment of vaccine doses donated by the U.S. government to Tunisia to date. In addition to 1.4 million Moderna and Pfizer vaccine doses donated by the U.S government, as of September 9, 2021, USAID has provided $37 million to support Tunisia’s response to and recovery from COVID-19. (Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of USAID, Bureau for the Middle East) VIEW ORIGINAL

JA2 is also working with its interagency partners to ensure COVID-19 does not further complicate matters in Ukraine. On May 12, the Ukrainian government announced they were ready to accept donations despite the ongoing conflict with Russia. The Army and JA2 are committed to ensuring this happens.

Victories are won by careful planning and precise execution. It takes a team, and the acquisition partnerships that were once created by necessity are here to stay, ready to be used against future crises the Nation will face. The DOD, more broadly, also works with USAID to go beyond the scope of COVID acquisitions and is helping them solve the recent baby formula shortage here in America.

The problems of today will come to an end at some point. But the Army of 2030 requires strong partnerships and capabilities already in place, ready to combat the problems of tomorrow’s problems, including CBRN threats and other naturally occurring or man-made threats at home and abroad. The JPEO-CBRND JA2 team’s partnership with USAID, UNICEF, HHS, and ACC is just one example of how the Army is well prepared for the future fight.