With the first COVID-19 vaccine already in the arms of some health care workers, the Defense Logistics Agency is ready to ship doses for Defense Department employees outside the continental U.S. and the deployed U.S. Navy Fleet.
DLA has spent months working with Operation Warp Speed and Defense Health Agency officials to refine its plan for delivering the vaccine as it becomes available from manufacturers. The agency already has well-defined, cold-chain management practices and has delivered the annual flu vaccine for 20 years.
"In some aspects, storage and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is pretty similar to what we've been doing all along with the flu vaccine, and DLA has had great success getting that to DOD employees around the world," Army Col. Anthony Bostick, who leads DLA's Operation Warp Speed operational planning team, said.
The agency has increased refrigerated storage space and can maintain almost 19 million doses of the 2-to-8-degree Celsius vaccine and 4.6 million of the minus 20-degree Celsius vaccine ahead of shipping products to customers. The agency hasn't been asked to distribute the minus 80-degree Celsius vaccine but has developed initial plans to provide support if necessary, Bostick added.
DLA Distribution manages six U.S.-based and four overseas centers capable of handling cold-chain items and began training additional employees in cold-chain management processes in June, Bob Garrettson of DLA Distribution's special commodities team said.
"We've been involved in very detailed, intense planning with DHA and other key players to make sure there's a coordinated response that gets the vaccine exactly where it's needed, and we have contingency plans in place in case they're needed," he said.
Dana Dallas, DLA troop support's cold chain program manager, helps create policy for managing temperature-sensitive medical material throughout DOD. She works with DLA distribution to establish packaging and handling procedures that follow manufacturer guidelines.
"We have temperature-monitoring devices in all of our cold-chain shipments, so we can do quality analysis for any incidences on cold-chain material during either distribution or post-receipt, such as refrigerator malfunctions," she said.
Shipments from U.S.-based centers typically remain cold for up to five days, Garrettson added. Many shipments destined for overseas customers will be cross-docked at other DLA Distribution centers where material handlers will refresh packaging components to maintain cold temperatures. The agency is also coordinating with customers to ensure they're available to receive the vaccine upon arrival, Garrettson continued.
DLA has been involved in the nation's pandemic response since February and has provided over $2.5 billion in items ranging from face masks and ventilators to test kits.