Late last month, a senior official in the Trump administration said the Department of Defense would handle the logistics of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The official told attendees at a briefing that the CDC’s role would be limited to communicating with state officials and tracking vaccinated people.
Now, the CDC has activated a pandemic provision in a contract that predates Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House. The provision of the 2016 contract with McKesson gave the CDC the option to task the healthcare supply chain player with distributing vaccines in the event of a pandemic.
McKesson played that role in the US response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza panic. More broadly, the company has extensive experience of distributing prophylactics in the US, including through the CDC Vaccines for Children Program that is the focus of the 2016 contract.
The COVID-19 vaccines in development may pose different challenges to McKesson than the shots it routinely distributes in the US. Notably, mRNA vaccines covered by the US government’s deals with Moderna and the BioNTech-Pfizer alliance may need to be stored at temperatures as low as -80℃.
McKesson is also in talks with the vaccine developers themselves about the role it can play in getting prophylactics to people in the US, as CFO Britt Vitalone said on a conference call with investors earlier this month.
“There's over 100 vaccines, close to 150 in development. There's probably 10 to 20 at the front end of that funnel. We continue to work closely and are in discussions with all of the manufacturers,” said Vitalone.
McKesson is preparing to distribute COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as gearing up for its usual work shipping influenza prophylactics. The CDC and vaccine manufacturers including AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi expect the US to receive a record number of influenza vaccines this year, reflecting concerns about the impact of simultaneous flu and COVID-19 outbreaks on hospitals.
Despite that, McKesson expects little to change from its perspective. McKesson CEO Brian Tyler told investors the company is expecting “a typical or average flu season.” Whatever happens, the season is unlikely to be financially material for McKesson.