Why the US has moved away from Covid vaccines in Operation Warp Speed


One of the Trump administration’s biggest accomplishments — and yes, there have been achievements — has been Operation Warp Speed, the public and private effort to quickly develop Covid vaccines.

But this is the rare achievement in Washington that almost no one wants to take credit for: Democrats are loath to admit Trump has done anything right, and many Republicans believe — or tell their constituents they think — that Covid vaccines are dangerous or that vaccines are not. Important anyway, and we don’t want Trump to be credited for the essential role of his administration in making them available in record time.

But, of course, the Covid vaccines have been very good. They don’t dampen transmission enough to end the pandemic we all so crave, but they do make you less likely to die from it, save millions of lives in total, and enable life mostly to return to normal without cluster just a year after the onset of the pandemic.

We’ve achieved a lot in Operation Warp Speed, including proving that the United States can still rise to the crisis. We could also have learned a lot from Operation Warp Speed ​​- but we mostly didn’t bother.

Last week, David Kessler, who managed vaccine distribution under the early Biden administration, left the White House, marking what happened at Axios. named “The symbolic end of Operation Warp Speed”.

Kessler’s departure was hardly news, but it should have been. That’s because the faint slowdown of Operation Warp Speed ​​shows we’re on the right track to forget the lessons of Covid – and to stand by when the next pandemic inevitably comes.

First, a quick point that I think isn’t said enough: Warp Speed ​​deserves huge credit for saving lives in an early pandemic. Companies that make critical parts of the vaccine take credit for Warp Speed’s proprietary licenses to obtain Power came back on within minutes after the power went out and convincing sellers to reduce production times from 75 days to 7 days. Negotiated partnerships for every part of the supply chain – From glass vials to syringes to shipping containers – enabled a rapid rollout. Even the Ministry of Defense get involved In logistics, flight equipment and vaccines from one place to another.

many Retroactively On Warp Speed ​​came in January and February 2021, when the vaccines had just been released, but there was still widespread frustration that the shots weren’t yet available to everyone who wanted them. it was there Early acknowledgments That operation was a failure.

It wasn’t. By the end of April, vaccines were available in most parts of the country to everyone who wanted them. the National Institutes of Health estimates Warp Speed ​​saved 140,000 American lives by accelerating vaccine development and deployment by about five months.

Then, There were calls For the United States to continue to lead in resolving bottlenecks in global Covid vaccine distribution. This did not happen. it was there calls too To apply all of this newfound expertise and capabilities in tackling other diseases that kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, and toward preparing for the next pandemic. This also did not happen.

Immunologist Moncef Slaoui, who headed Warp Speed ​​under the Trump administration, spent years before The pandemic calls for a simple and cheap measure that would make it possible to develop vaccines faster: maintaining idle capacity so that the country can respond to emergencies.

like he said Science in Interview 2021:

“The whole concept — after we’ve been through a flu pandemic, an Ebola outbreak, a Zika outbreak — was to say, ‘Listen, the problem is always the same, there are no manufacturing facilities that are idle, waiting to be used. Even if we had one, we would have a problem because we would have to stop making other vaccines, which are needed to save people’s lives. So we thought, “Why not take a dedicated facility and have them work on discovering vaccines against known potential outbreak agents, one by one?” They will become incredibly skilled and trained to move quickly and discover vaccines. The company was willing to provide the facility and only ask for the cost of its operation. Unfortunately, it didn’t fly. “

But, after the success of Operation Warp Speed, he was optimistic that Covid would change the US government’s disinterest in maintaining rapid vaccine development capacity. “This pandemic is costing the American economy $23 billion a day, every day,” he said. “Investing $300 million to $500 million a year in such a facility is peanuts and would save countless lives.”

With two more years of hindsight and Kessler’s eventual exit from the White House, Slaoui’s optimism is almost painful. this investment? did not happen. Before the pandemic, some of this country’s smartest experts He spent years telling us An epidemic is coming and it will be catastrophic, but we can prepare and significantly mitigate the damage. We didn’t.

During the pandemic, we developed significant expertise in vaccine development and distribution, which we could easily have leveraged in maintaining the ability to rapidly develop a vaccine to prevent the next pandemic. We didn’t. Given the unpopularity and growing popularity of Warp Speed The political divide of vaccinationI’m not sure if another pandemic happens, we’ll try to do something like Warp Speed ​​again.

Politics around the pandemic, and especially around vaccines, is becoming more toxic. Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has built his national profile within the Republican Party around his staunch opposition to Covid-era restrictions, He said he would He pushed the state legislature to put in place permanent policies such as banning mask mandates and Covid vaccine mandates in schools. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Republicans—Trump included, despite his administration’s role in launching Operation Warp Speed—compete in 2024 to see who can aggressively downplay the threat of Covid and future pandemics.

I don’t want this to be completely frustrating. The story of Operation Warp Speed ​​is also one of humanity’s amazing achievements. 140,000 Americans – and maybe more – are alive because of a band of dedicated people I worked ridiculous hours To get vaccines out of the lab, through trials, and to doctors’ doorsteps faster than anyone would have thought. I admire them, and I am inspired by them. Which is why I feel sad that we seem to be holding back what they achieved.

A version of this story was originally published in the Future Perfect newsletter. Register here to sign up!



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