On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a small group of federal public health staff activated its emergency plan as part of the U.S. government’s immediate response to the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. Established in 1999, the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS) was in its infancy when the events of 9/11 unfolded and was quietly housed in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health. It was not until 2003 that the NPS would become the
Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), which in 2018 transitioned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Acting SNS Director Steve Adams, who was one of the original stockpile responders, recalls how staff mobilized and stood up operations that day to support anticipated requests.
“The morning the first tower was struck, I was working in Atlanta with a small staff of 22 people who comprised the national stockpile team,” he said. “At that time, the NPS had not yet become a branch, CDC did not have a designated emergency operations center, and the NPS managed operations from a small ‘dual use’ conference room where we had to set up folding tables and bring in laptops to begin operations. By the time the second tower was hit, the stockpile staff was in full response mode and working to assess which emergency assets and stockpiled supplies might be needed to treat the large numbers of trauma victims we anticipated.”
Gorman recalled the overwhelming volume of public inquiries that poured in, including calls from companies that wanted to donate burn cream, bandages, and supplies to augment what was available in the stockpile. She noted that a power outage occurred in the makeshift operations conference room in Atlanta, making it difficult to communicate with field staff and compounding efforts to stay in touch as events unfolded over the course of the response.
Not long before the events of 9/11, the stockpile staff had worked with colleagues at the NYC Department of Emergency Operations, which was responsible for the city’s emergency medical countermeasure planning. This collaboration proved important during the incident, as the TARU team and NYC officials were already familiar with each other’s operations. When the events of 9/11 occurred, the stockpile and NYC had been in the process of planning an exercise around distribution of medical countermeasures.
Deploying people and materiel effectively were the critical pieces of the stockpile’s response. “We were in NYC within hours,” Adams recalled. “The NPS functioned well because of the investments made in preparation, planning, and exercising.”
Although all air traffic was grounded, stockpile responders were able to conduct lifesaving missions because of emergency plans already in place for these types of incidents. The stockpile had established and validated its relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration, which had established unique call signs to allow for four contracted aircraft to operate on behalf of NPS, even when air traffic was limited or grounded. Two of the aircraft were intended to move personnel and the other two were for transport and delivery of medicines and supplies. This established relationship proved vital as 9/11 events evolved and access to air space became critical.
SNS Operational Logistics Branch Deputy David Allen recalled the significance of flying to Ground Zero. “Our plane was the only plane in the sky,” he said. “As we approached New York, we were met by an Air Force escort. That was a surreal moment.”
During the flight, Allen remembers the pilot saying, “There’s no one else up here in the air.” Once on the ground, Allen, along with members of an air guard and U.S. Marines, repacked ventilators and ancillary supplies prior to movement into NYC. On the evening of 9/11, tractor-trailers carrying stockpile assets were escorted by state police to a warehouse in Queens where products were staged and ready for use.
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks prompted federal legislation and directives to strengthen public health emergency readiness in the United States. Since its beginning, the SNS has evolved its capabilities and answered the nation’s call to respond to
multiple large-scale emergencies including floods, hurricanes, and emerging infectious diseases. The SNS also has supported numerous small-scale deployments for the treatment of individuals with life-threatening infectious diseases like anthrax, smallpox, and botulism.
In the past 22 years, the SNS has grown from just a few employees to a highly accomplished and dedicated staff of approximately 250 federal employees and contractors who lead the federal government’s largest stockpile of emergency medical countermeasures. A large part of the work SNS does is to remain flexible and scalable to respond to any need that arises.
Today’s SNS is part of the federal medical response infrastructure and can supplement medical countermeasures needed by states, tribal nations, territories and the largest metropolitan areas during public health emergencies. These supplies, medicines, and devices for lifesaving care can be used as a short-term, stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of these materials may not be available or sufficient. The SNS team works every day to prepare and respond to emergencies, support state and local preparedness activities, and ensure availability of critical medical assets to protect the health of all Americans.
More than 70% of adults in the United States have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine, and
BARDA has purchased enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines to cover everyone in the United States. At the same time, federal health officials recognize that the pandemic is a global struggle and the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t stop at any of our national borders.
To stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. and decrease the chances of new, even more dangerous, variants emerging, we must help prevent the spread of the pandemic worldwide. That is why, with ASPR’s coordination, the U.S. is taking the global lead in supporting countries in need of the pandemic vaccine. In fact, with ASPR’s help, the U.S. has donated over 107 million doses of vaccine to 65 countries. The U.S. has already surpassed the initial goal of donating 80 million doses. So far, ASPR has directly supported shipments of approximately 77 million of those donated doses to 26 countries.
ASPR’s efforts began several months ago with
vaccine support to the Republic of Palau and India. We are continuing to support other countries’ requests as they are coordinated by the State Department and the White House. We recently caught up with two Public Health Service Officers, Commanders Avi Stein and Angela Hutson, who have been leading the coordination.
Commander Stein, the lead for the ground teams, talked to us about the challenges of each donation. “The biggest challenge during the bilateral agreement missions is coordinating the logistics. Each transfer has been unique, some with military aircrafts, some with commercial aircrafts, some with partners like FedEx and UPS supporting the movement. There is a great deal of logistics in assuring the support to the dignitaries arriving, coordinating aircraft handling on the ground, buildout of the pallets for commercial air transport, and coordinating with partner agencies. Each transfer has posed very unique challenges.”
He added that each individual donation is a significant effort. The donations require a contract modification, legal reviews, customs and exportation documents, identification of lots, cold chain assurance, current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) documentation, security and assurance, physical transfer support, and tracking until shipments have landed in the destination country. ASPR works our part of this process expeditiously with our partners at the White House, the U.S. Department of State, foreign government officials, airport authorities, private sector medical supply distributors, and commercial haulers, to get the vaccines to where they need to be.
ASPR’s team of some 20 staff carefully orchestrate the logistics on the ground to:
For example, in arranging for donations of vaccine to Colombia, ASPR had to shift daytime arrangements to night-time operations to help maintain temperature control of the vaccine doses on both ends of the flight. ASPR personnel met the arriving aircraft and foreign dignitaries, arranged for distributor’s trucks filled with vaccines to leave the warehouse at a specific time and arrive at the airport at a specific time. The vaccine vials arrived at the airport on warehouse pallets in special boxes to maintain the necessary temperature for 120 hours – long enough to get the vaccine to Colombia. Airport handlers moved the vaccines from the truck to a specialized aircraft pallet which could be raised up to the plane’s cargo door to load the vaccines easily onto the plane.
Commander Hutson was on site at the Memphis airport for the transfer where she witnessed the country’s ambassador sign the title, transferring the ownership of vaccines the Colombian government, and a U.S. official signed the documentations relinquishing ownership of the vaccines.
Commander Stein discussed a different donation shipment, this time to Taiwan. The Ambassador of told the team that so few people in Taiwan had been vaccinated and this will make a huge difference. “Directly after the signing, she called the Taiwanese President who asked to speak to me. The President thanked me on behalf of the 15.2 million citizens of Taiwan.”
Commander Hutson added that McKesson staff – ASPR’s partner contractor – recently took another group of Colombian delegates on a tour of their facility and they got to see the -20°C freezers and watched the workers move the vaccines. “The Colombian delegation was so thankful for the impressive work that will be saving their fellow country men and women.”
There are two types of vaccine transfers occurring: direct donations from the U.S. to a foreign country through a bilateral agreement and vaccine donations from the U.S. through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access or COVAX initiative with the World Health Organization. To date, donations supported directly by ASPR have gone to Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Brazil, Honduras, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, El Salvador, Vietnam, Guatemala, Indonesia, Bhutan, Fiji, Ukraine, Argentina, Sri Lanka, and Tajikistan, and we continue to work with the State Department and other federal officials to evaluate requests and expand U.S. donations.
Commander Hutson mentioned that the COVID-19 response experience has been both heartbreaking and rewarding. “We all worked so hard going into FEMA each day trying to resolve medical supply chain issues when resources were so scarce. I felt the burden of these victims of COVID-19. I also have a personal history with COVID-19. It tried to rob me of my parents and of my own health. My parents got sick in January before we could get vaccinated. I traveled home to Missouri to take care of them and after a week or so I also contracted COVID-19. As soon as we all had recovered and were eligible, we got the vaccines. It is such a great feeling knowing that we have a high level of protection now. This makes me want to do all that I can to help others have this same feeling of protection.”
By working with our partners across the U.S. government and beginning new relationships with our international partners, ASPR is playing a vital role in bringing critically needed doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people across the planet, ultimately helping save lives. By effectively using the vaccine that ASPR has worked with its partners to develop, manufacture, and safely transfer to our international partners, we are taking an important step to help mitigate – and even end – the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Commander Stein finally noted that the opportunity to impact individuals on a global level is the best part of this mission. “Most ASPR missions focus on supporting communities after a disaster. COVID gave us the opportunity to impact the entire country during the early days of the response. The Biden Administration’s push to donate vaccines across the globe has given us the unique privilege to impact the global community. I have worked with several ambassadors and foreign dignitaries during these transfers and many are overwhelmed at what each donation means for their country. Serving as the Senior U.S. Representative on each of these missions is one of the biggest honors of my career.”
Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units have faced challenging situations and many dedicated volunteers have performed extraordinary work as they partner with their local communities in
response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MRC is a national network of volunteers, organized locally to improve the health and safety of their communities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many MRC units have been faced with, and worked to address, behavioral health needs by implementing effective strategies to promote team well-being and resilience.
These strategies have offered meaningful support to MRC volunteers who have served in a variety of high stress situations – from medical surge support at healthcare facilities to mass vaccinations – and can be adopted by other organizations to support their people.
Mitigation strategies that MRC units have utilized include:
COVID-19 has caused anxiety in communities across the country, and MRC units have been working to ensure that they meet both the physical and the behavioral health needs of the communities they serve. Here are two concepts that some MRC units have implemented to help build resilience.
Addressing the behavioral health consequences of high stress missions is important to fostering psychological safety in the workplace. Sharing best practices, innovative strategies and resources is a critical part of the process of supporting team health and well-being.
Serving communities during health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic can be stressful, but it is often very rewarding. Despite the challenges, many volunteers are proud to serve their communities and really enjoy being part of a team that is making a difference. If you think you may be interested in becoming a part of the MRC, take a few minutes to
learn more and
find a unit in your area.
This week, we announced a new tool that can help hospitals, health care facilities, and other potential infusion sites make smart choices to better manage and reduce COVID-19 related patient surge: the COVID-19 Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutics Calculator (mAbs Calculator).
In some parts of the country, where COVID-19 cases are high and vaccination rates are low, many hospitals continue to face patient surge. Other areas are facing new surges in patients as the Delta variant of the virus spreads in their communities. For communities where COVID-19 infection rates are steady or declining, having response plans ready should variants emerge in their communities is critical to enable a rapid response.
An effective COVID-19 mAb therapeutics distribution program can play a major role in helping hospitals and health care facilities fight the pandemic. COVID-19 mAb therapeutics benefit both the patient receiving the treatment, in the form of faster and easier recovery, and health care facilities by reducing the likelihood of a surge in hospitalized patients. We know that not only will patients get better quickly with mAbs, but patients who have received the treatment will also be less likely to spread the virus to their family and other contacts.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the use of IV administration for mAbs, and current and proposed infusion sites must make critical decisions on staffing and resource use to properly administer the treatment.
To help hospitals and health care facilities make smarter, more informed decisions on the effective use of staff and space, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, developed the mAbs Calculator.
The new mAbs Calculator is a free decision-support tool that enables hospitals and health care facilities to make data-informed choices about the allocation of resources necessary to effectively and efficiently provide monoclonal antibody therapeutics to qualified patients. Using the data from this tool, facilities can establish programs that better meet patient needs, reduce stress on the hospital, and are cost-effective overall. The mAbs Calculator can support planning in a wide range of settings, including large heath systems; emergency departments; medical centers; rural health providers; ambulatory infusion sites; long-term care facilities; urgent care centers; federally qualified health centers ; and mobile infusion units.
The mAbs Calculator was developed using advanced simulation and modeling tools to inform those staffing decisions and resource investments in real-time. The mAbs Calculator is based on criteria that are not specific to any one mAb therapeutic product or combination of products.
More than 162,000 alternative scenarios take into consideration:
In late 2020 and early 2021, HHS/ASPR set up temporary mAbs infusion sites in Imperial County, CA (El Centro Regional Medical Center), Clark Count, NV (Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center – Las Vegas), and Pima County, AZ (Tucson Medical Center). While these three sites were focused on providing the highest level of patient care, there was also a team collecting key data points on all aspects of treatment from the time needed to administer the therapeutics to the patients to the staff needed to properly care for each patient. This information makes up the bulk of the mAbs Calculator database.
Aside from the immediate benefits, the mAbs Calculator will be an essential tool in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases. This is a concern based on the percentage of Americans who have/have not been vaccinated and the advent of new COVID-19 variants.
We hope that everybody gets vaccinated and that no new variants materialize. But if things don’t go that way, the mAbs Calculator will help make sure infusion sites can treat as many people as possible.
Think of this tool like you think of having a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. You might never have to use it, but if there’s a fire, you’re glad it’s there. We hope we will not have to deal with surges of COVID-19 infection or new variants; but if we do, we’ll have the mAbs Calculator available to help maximize the distribution of effective therapeutics to the people who need it. And we’ll be glad it’s there.
To check out this new decision support tool, visit the COVID-19 Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutics Calculator for Infusion Sites.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the year 2035 there will be more Americans who are 65 and older than there will be children under the age of 18. As the number of older adults across the country grows, planning to meet the needs of older adults during disasters and emergencies effectively becomes more important than ever. Emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted how older adults can be particularly vulnerable during a disaster or emergency.
Now, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response is recruiting new members for a national advisory committee to propose smart solutions to some of the toughest challenges facing older adults during and after disasters. Members of the new National Advisory Committee on Seniors and Disasters (NACSD) will advise the HHS Secretary and other senior officials on meeting the needs of older adults during and after disasters and emergencies.
While committee members have different reasons for serving, according to Dr. Prabhavathi Fernandes, Chairperson of the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB), “It’s your chance to be heard.”
It’s also a chance to listen. “Learn what is being done. We have access to information that’s not widely distributed to the public. A lot of it is very informative,” offered Dr. Fernandes.
According to Dr. Fernandes, serving on a federal committee also extends your professional contacts, providing an opportunity to collaborate and exchange ideas with public and private sector experts in your field. For example, up to 10 federal, non-voting members, will participate in the NACSD, including the following officials or their designees:
The NACSD evaluates issues and programs to support and enhance all-hazards public health and medical preparedness, response, and recovery activities related to meeting the unique needs of older adults. Following evaluation, NACSD provides findings, advice, and recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
If you are interested in working on issues related to emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for older adults, the NACSD is looking for at least seven non-federal voting members (including a chairperson). A minimum of two non-federal health care professionals with expertise in geriatric medical disaster planning, preparedness, response, or recovery; and at least two representatives from state, local, tribal, or territorial agencies with expertise in geriatric disaster planning, preparedness, response, or recovery will be asked to join the committee.
Your experience can have a nationwide impact on the health of older Americans. Visit NACSD to learn more about the committee’s membership and mission and to access the application instructions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 61 million adults in the United States living with a disability – and nearly one in three working-age adults with a disability does not have a health care provider. When disaster strikes, meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities can become increasingly complicated, but effectively planning in advance to take into account the unique health needs of individuals with disabilities can result in better health outcomes.
You may be able to make a national difference by providing advice and guidance to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other senior leaders.
The new National Advisory Committee on Individuals with Disabilities and Disasters (NACIDD) is looking for experts to provide advice on meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities during any disaster or emergency – from the next natural disaster to the next pandemic.
Professionals are motivated to serve on advisory committees for a variety of reasons. “One reason is to bring your expertise to make a difference in policy. It’s an opportunity to shape the way things are done on a national level,” explains Dr. H. Dele Davies who has served on a number of federal committees and boards and is currently a member of the National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB). “It’s also a chance to learn from other incredible people and to bring new ideas back to your organization and the group you represent.”
According to Dr. Davies, serving on a federal committee “is an affirmation of your professional expertise and value.” He also appreciates how serving can grow your circle of influence by “working with other experts in your field.” For example, along with members from the private sector, up to 10 federal, non-voting members will participant in the NACIDD, including the following officials or their designees:
The NACIDD meets to evaluate issues and programs to support and enhance all-hazards public health and medical preparedness, response, and recovery activities related to meeting the unique needs of Americans with disabilities. Following evaluation, NACIDD provides findings, advice, and recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The NACIDD is looking for at least seven non-federal voting members (including a chairperson). The committee is targeting a minimum of two non-federal health care professionals with expertise in enhancing disability accessibility before, during, and after disasters, medical and mass care disaster planning, preparedness, response, or recovery; a minimum of two representatives from state, local, tribal, or territorial agencies with expertise in disaster planning, preparedness, response, or recovery for individuals with disabilities; and a minimum of two individuals with a disability with expertise in disaster planning, preparedness, response, or recovery for individuals with disabilities.
Visit NACIDD to learn more about the committee’s membership and mission and how to submit your nomination.
Although the battle against COVID-19 has been a primary focus over the past 16 months, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has remained committed to developing solutions against a wide range of other threats as well.
One critical area of focus is the development of antibacterial medical countermeasures to combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR) through a variety of mechanisms including a global accelerator program BARDA co-founded. This non-profit partnership funds early-stage research of innovative and transformational technologies for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of life-threatening, AMR bacterial infections to tackle this growing global threat.
As the current effort approaches the end of its planned five-year period of performance, BARDA is reaffirming its support for early-stage AMR product development. Building off the first accelerator’s successes over the past five years ($333 million invested in 89 innovative projects, 59 of which are currently active in 11 countries), BARDA is announcing its commitment to invest in a second iteration of a global AMR accelerator program.
This program maintains BARDA’s commitment to revitalize the pre-clinical pipeline and ensure that the most innovative and impactful diagnostics, vaccines and drugs are made available to prevent and treat infections caused by the most serious strains of multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria. Continued support of this program is critical to ensure that the United States, and the world, does not lose the race against AMR bacteria that threaten both our health and economic security.
According to the 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Report on Antibiotic Resistance Threats, each year more than 2.8 million Americans develop a drug-resistant infection and more than 35,000 die from them. A recent Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) report estimated that the combined cost to treat these community and healthcare associated infections in the US was $4.6 billion in 2017. According to the 2019 report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, No Time to Wait: Securing the Future from Drug-Resistant Infections, over 700,000 people are killed every year from drug resistant infections globally, and that number could increase to 10 million without proper efforts to contain AMR.
Developing new antibiotics is difficult, expensive, and typically has a too-low return on investment in the current market paradigm. These factors have played a key role in manufacturers shifting their efforts away from the development and manufacture of new antibiotics to focus their efforts on more financially lucrative therapeutic areas.
Experience shows that effective emergency response for pandemics and other public health emergencies requires effective therapeutics to treat and care for victims following mass casualty incidents; this includes the prevention and treatment of secondary bacterial infections that can arise in these patients as a result of their injuries or illnesses caused by the main incident. The impact of these infections is more pronounced when they are caused by MDR bacteria, which can complicate any public health emergency response, requiring even more resources and patient care than the incident alone would have required.
In addition to founding and supporting a global partnership to accelerate research and development (R&D) of antimicrobial products, BARDA provides non-dilutive funding to offset high R&D costs and technical assistance to reduce R&D risk. Combined, these benefits incentivize and enable companies to focus on the R&D of truly transformative antibacterial candidates for which a stable market does not yet exist.
Through the antibacterial program, BARDA has supported 28 public-private partnerships with industry since 2010, ranging from small biotechnology firms to global pharmaceutical companies, and currently has a portfolio of 16 antibacterial drug candidates across all phases of development including preclinical, Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, and post-approval.
These 16 candidates target drug-resistant bacterial pathogens identified by the CDC in the Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2019 (2019 AR Threats Report), as “urgent” threats, as well as a majority of those threats categorized as “serious.” Recognizing the importance of investing in diverse approaches, the BARDA portfolio includes a mixture of traditional small molecule antibiotics as well as non-traditional candidates.
The BARDA Antibacterials program recently passed the 10-year anniversary mark and will continue to invest in transformative, next-generation antimicrobial approaches. We will build on the foundation of investments of over $1.5 billion to date (partner cost-share in excess of $3.5 billion) and three U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals of new antibiotics.
Recognizing the capital-intensive nature of post-approval requirements and clinical trials supporting the use of antibiotics in underserved patient populations like pediatrics, the program will work with companies to support these studies and improve the chance of success following a product’s approval and commercial launch.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are harmed as a result of antibiotic resistance. Even during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, the U.S. government is prioritizing the health security threat posed by AMR bacterial infections.
BARDA remains committed to expanding the development pipeline and accelerating the progression of products that address medical needs and combat AMR infections to save lives. We encourage biotech, pharmaceutical, academic, and healthcare organizations to join us in these efforts, and if your organization meets the criteria for our next antibacterial accelerator, apply under our BARDA broad agency announcement (BAA) Amendment #25, Special Instructions Issuance for the Area of Interest #3.4 Antibacterial Accelerator (PDF) of the BARDA BAA (BAA-18-100-SOL-00003).
The Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) community has tirelessly worked to address supply chain challenges presented over the last sixteen months. Healthcare facilities have had to manage supply chains stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, worker scarcity, backed-up ports, and the 2021 Texas freeze. The next supply chain challenge facing the HPH community is likely to be the 2021 hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted that the 2021 hurricane season will have above-normal activity with 13 – 20 named storms, six to ten of those storms becoming hurricanes, with three to five major hurricanes. During hurricane season, healthcare facilities are vulnerable to cross sector infrastructure failures, inadequate supplies to meet demand during medical surge, and lack of redundancy throughout the supply chain. These supply chain challenges may be compounded by existing COVID-related complications and will require healthcare facilities to be aware of current and anticipated shortages and to thoughtfully plan their approaches to acquire and manage products.
Here are eight things you can do at your healthcare facility to keep your organization prepared for supply chain disruptions that could occur this hurricane season.
To learn more about preparing your healthcare facility for possible supply chain disruptions during the 2021 hurricane season check out these resources from ASPR and other federal government partners.
ASPR’s Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) is actively tracking the 2021 hurricane season and other emerging issues at the intersection of disaster health and critical infrastructure protection. To learn more about ASPR’s CIP program and how it can help improve your organization’s ability to respond, recover, and prepare for threats and incidents impacting the nation’s health critical infrastructure visit the ASPR CIP webpage.
For over a year, public servants from ASPR and across the government have worked tirelessly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as we continue to prepare for, respond to, and recover from other disasters and emergencies. Each and every day, I am honored to work with staff from ASPR and other public servants from across the government as we continue to develop medical countermeasures to address health security threats, build healthcare coalitions, deploy healthcare professionals from the National Disaster Medical System to support communities, strengthen supply chains, and much more.
During Public Service Recognition Week, May 2-8, 2021, I would like to take a moment to say “thank you” to our team of dedicated public servants for the important work they do to protect the health and safety of all Americans.
The work that ASPR staff does – both on the frontlines of health and behind the scenes – has been especially impressive with the unparalleled demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. ASPR’s public servants have helped lead the charge in the fight against COVID-19 and their tireless response efforts continue to bolster our nation’s ongoing recovery every day.
The ASPR team has done, and continues to do, exceptional work to protect the health and safety of all Americans. Always prepared to pivot when changes occur, ASPR teams have worked on the end-to-end development of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics; supported our healthcare and public health partners as they worked to address patient surges in communities across the country; collected, analyzed, and distributed critical information to government officials and the American people; responded to natural and man-made disasters and public health emergencies; administered COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and therapeutics; and more.
I am proud and humbled to share with you that members of ASPR have been named finalists for this year’s
Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, also known as the Sammies. BARDA’s Ebola Medical Countermeasures Taskforce led by David Boucher, PhD; John Lee, PhD; and Dan Wolfe, PhD, are being recognized for their role in developing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tests that have already been used to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus and avert the possibility of another pandemic. While most of the world has focused on COVID-19, this task force has helped protect us all from Ebola. Join me in congratulating David, John and Dan for this outstanding recognition. This prestigious nomination would not be possible without many other ASPR and BARDA staff who facilitated their work.
For many, it’s more than a job; it’s a calling, a drive to serve, and a way to give back to our nation.
During Public Service Recognition Week, please join me in taking a moment to say “thanks” to our devoted public servants in ASPR and across federal, state, tribal and territorial governments in gratitude for their experience, expertise, commitment, hard work, dedication, courage, and irreplaceable contributions.
I am proud to serve with each and every one of you.
Approximately 340 islands in the western Pacific -- more than 4000 miles away from Hawaii -- make up the Republic of Palau, a country with which the United States has deep ties that date back to the end of World War II. Recognizing the success of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution by the U.S. government, Palau requested assistance through the U.S. Embassy in Koror – their largest city – and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services answered the call. Captain Erik Vincent of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps led a team of 14 National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) responders on a three week mission to vaccinate more than 5600 people in Palau.
As the U.S. kept pace to reach and exceed the Biden Administration’s goal of 200 million COVID-19 vaccinations in their first 100 days of the administration, the request from the island nation represented a strategic partnership that has been ongoing since the two countries signed a Compact of Free Association in 1982, where the U.S. agreed to provide various types of support for the islands including defense support as well as health and medical services. In fact, the small group of islands even have two U.S. zip codes. HHS recognized the need to assist Palau’s health and medical service in preventing COVID-19 from reaching the islands, which could devastate the relatively small population of more than 17,000 who rely on tourism, farming and fishing for their livelihood. Especially when, to date, there had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palau – meaning there was no recorded community or person-to-person spread of the novel virus.
The word ‘Palau’ roughly translates in one of the island’s native languages to “village,” and it certainly took a village to coordinate all the necessary actions required to get a team from NDMS on the ground to help the Palau Ministry of Health. Captain Vincent led the NDMS team through the various requirements including every responder being fully vaccinated prior to departure, a 5-day restricted movement period upon arrival, and multiple negative COVID-19 tests.
The team knew that the long trip to the islands and all of the requirements were worth the effort to keep Palau free of COVID-19 cases. Some NDMS team members traveled as far as from the East Coast. After working with the U.S. Embassy and the Palau Ministry of Health to plan out vaccinations across the islands, the vaccinators provided the people of Palau over 300 shots per day of either the Johnson&Johnson or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines – sometimes having to carry the vaccine in coolers as they ventured to more remote parts of the islands.
We were able to recently catch up with Capt. Vincent, the team Pharmacist Dr. Sridevi Pochincherla, as well as their fellow teammates Heather Shannon, Stacy McCarthy and Jeff Allen, to speak with them about their deployment to Palau.
Capt. Vincent and Dr. Pochincherla were honored that their team was able to work directly with the President of the small island nation and U.S. Ambassador John Hennesey-Niland. President Surangel Whipps Jr. accompanied the team on a hospital boat, where they were able to deliver vaccines in the harbor from the boat and then travel inland to vaccinate home-bound patients. Dr. Pochincherla fondly remembers the joy and excitement people had when they were welcomed into Palaun homes. This mission reminded Dr. Pochincherla of her own grandmother and family in South Asia. “That was a really special moment for me to be able to provide that service and receive that level of appreciation,” Dr. Pochincherla said.
Nurses Heather Shannon and Stacy McCarthy recalled the amplified sense of purpose the mission gave them, both having worked on the COVID-19 pandemic response in the U.S. beginning with the repatriation missions of 2020. “It felt like we were delivering hope one shot at a time that we will see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel,” Nurse Shannon said. “It was an unexpected bonus that we were able to experience a little bit of their history, culture and natural biodiversity.”
For Paramedic Jeff Allen, this was his first COVID-19 deployment, something that is extremely rare among NDMS responders who have frequently deployed more than two or three times for the federal response. Jeff was unable to deploy as frequently as some responders because he was dealing with the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. as part of his everyday job as a paramedic in King County, Washington. Jeff’s was excited to get to go to Palau having seen the devastating impacts of COVID-19 at home from the early days of the pandemic.
The team was able to provide more than 5,600 vaccinations to the people of Palau and Nurse McCarthy recalled what it was like to work on the different aspects of the pandemic. “I worked with repatriation of COVID-19 passengers from a cruise ship early last year, in a COVID ICU in the middle of last year, and at a COVID vaccination site earlier this year. It’s been fascinating to see the evolution of the pandemic and be deployed for distinct aspects of it. First, our team was supporting ICUs that were overwhelmed with COVID patients. Now, we’re vaccinating people to, hopefully, put an end to this pandemic. Our NDMS teams have been there every step of the way, supporting all aspects of the fight against COVID.”