The Army general supervising the distribution of maybe the most important medicine in the nation’s history worries that many Americans may not take it. General Gustave Perna is the veteran Army supply officer tasked by the president to supervise the massive distribution of COVID vaccine once it’s FDA approved. He speaks to David Martin and cameras record the moving parts of his critical mission dubbed “Operation Warp Speed” for a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast Sunday, November 8, at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. PT on CBS.
General Perna oversees the planning to distribute doses of vaccine to 300 million Americans, a process that includes drug companies, manufacturing plants, express delivery companies, the creation of syringe kits, and “Tiberius,” a custom computer program that will track the whole endeavor. It’s already cost $12 billion and more will be spent down the line, estimates the general. And if the process breaks down, “I hold myself 100% personally accountable to that end,” he tells Martin.
But, he says, it will be the whole country’s fault if citizens shun the shots aimed at stopping a deadly pandemic that has recently picked up speed. “My worst nightmare is that we get vaccines to the American people and they don’t take them. Shame on us.”
General Perna has cause to be worried. Judith Persichilli, the health commissioner in New Jersey, knows it may be hard to get many people to take the vaccine. Even doctors and nurses are reluctant. “We surveyed 2,000 health care individuals, physicians and nurses and we know that over 60% of the physicians said that they would get the vaccine. We know that about 40% of the nurses said that they would line up to get the vaccines,” says Persichelli. The health commissioner knows this is low but is not shocked. “There is a lot of vaccine hesitancy.”
Martin took 60 Minutes cameras into General Perna’s operation center where his military specialists are orchestrating the plan to get Americas inoculated against COVID-19. Among his biggest challenges are the two-shot doses administered 21 days apart required of the Pfizer vaccine and the fact that this particular drug must be kept at 94 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
In the operations center, one staffer explains how contingencies for such obstacles are being worked out. “The Virgin Islands has already reported in that they don’t have ultra-cold freezers,” says Marion Whicker, deputy chief of Supply, Production and Distribution. “But what we do know is that we can very quickly move dry ice from Puerto Rico,” she says.
Says General Perna, “At the end of the day, shots have to get in arms.”