McKesson signs up with Warp Speed to distribute COVID-19 shots in U.S.

The U.S. government has placed a series of multibillion-dollar bets on potential COVID-19 vaccines. But actually getting those vaccines to patients is another story, and now the government has picked a distributor to aid that effort. 

The Trump administration has tapped Dallas-based distribution giant McKesson to partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a national distributor for COVID-19 vaccines. 

Under a 2016 childhood vaccine deal, the CDC had an option to draft McKesson to distribute vaccines in case of a pandemic, according to a Department of Defense release. While financial terms of the option weren’t disclosed, Bloomberg reported the overall deal could be worth up to $300 million. 

McKesson, perhaps best known in recent years for its legal troubles over the nation’s opioid epidemic, is familiar with pandemic scenarios. In 2009, the Obama administration brought the company in to handle national distribution of H1N1 flu vaccines. 

McKesson and the nation’s largest drug distributors, including Cardinal Health and Walgreens, have been locked in thousands of lawsuits over their roles in fueling the U.S. opioid crisis. 

In February, a suite of state attorneys general shot down a class settlement of roughly $18 billion from McKesson and others, saying a fair deal would lie in the $22 billion to $32 billion range, The Wall Street Journal reported

The distributor’s board in January reached a $175 million settlement with investors over claims it didn’t adequately flag suspicious opioid shipments that may have helped add fuel to the crisis.  

McKesson’s Warp Speed pact comes as the Trump administration looks to flesh out a production and distribution framework for one or more approved vaccines by the end of the year. 

Last week, the government reached a $1.5 billion work order with Moderna for 100 million doses of its mRNA-based COVID-19 shot—after spending almost $1 billion in development costs for the vaccine. The pact also includes an option for an additional 400 million doses.

The Moderna order follows a suite of Warp Speed deals in recent weeks: Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline scored $2.1 billion to develop and deliver 100 million doses; Pfizer and BioNTech’s would rake in $1.95 billion for its shot; and Novavax snared $1.6 billion from the initiative. Johnson & Johnson also locked in a deal for $1 billion for 100 million doses of its shot, and AstraZeneca is on the hook for 300 million doses in a $1.2 billion deal. 

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