Oregon Sen. Merkley, other senators urge CDC & HHS to look at vaccine storage bottlenecks

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley joined other senators in urging national agencies to increase ultra-cold storage across the United States to prevent supply shortages of a coronavirus vaccine.

Sen. Merkley and 11 other Senate Democrats wrote a letter to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heads asking them to work with state, Tribal, territorial, and other agencies on a local level to find gaps in access to ultra-cold storage, especially in rural and underserved communities.

The senators say this is important information to have as some companies could soon have Emergency Use Authorization for their COVID-19 vaccines.

Merkley said he started asking the HHS for a vaccine distribution plan back in May that also factors in the alarming racial disparities in COVID-19 infections.

“While we understand that some logistical details may be unknowable at this time given that a vaccine has yet to be granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), it is alarming that the federal government has not provided more detailed guidance or additional resources to help state, territorial, and local governments understand the most likely mechanisms for distribution or requirements and recommendations for maintaining the cold chain, funding projections, or critical risks that should be addressed,” the Senators wrote. “This lack of guidance has severely hindered the ability of state, Tribal, territorial, and local public health officials to develop distribution plans and of individual clinics to prepare to accept, store, handle, and administer vaccines, and to share their comprehensive plans with CDC. Additionally, unknowns around cold chain storages issues add to the already difficult task of ensuring vaccination locations can schedule vaccine clinics to administer the doses quickly while also adhering to public health protocols like social distancing.”

The Senators continued, writing, “The time to get ahead of potential distribution issues and cold chain requirements is now. The federal government should be looking ahead to secure our supply chains and prepare to adequately transport and distribute whatever vaccine becomes available first. Communities around the country are still trying to compensate for the federal government’s failure to secure adequate and sustainable supplies of personal protective equipment earlier this year and throughout the pandemic. That failure has had tragic results, and your agencies should be doing everything in your power to avoid such a fiasco with the distribution of a vaccine.”