Terry McLaughlin: Credit both presidents
For over a year, our nation has been forced to address the health and economic implications that have accompanied a global pandemic. Former President Trump and current President Biden have both faced serious challenges imposed by this unprecedented crisis.
On May 15, 2020, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership that helped speed up the research and development of COVID-19 vaccines, leveraging support from the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Defense.
The newly elected Biden administration retired the name Operation Warp Speed on Jan. 20, handing the operation over to the White House COVID-19 Response Team. Incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated that many of the same civil servants would be involved in the operation, but the structure would change.
A report in February released by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office confirmed that the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed played a vital role in helping vaccinate millions of Americans despite President Biden’s claim March 2 that his predecessor had “failed to order enough vaccines, failed to mobilize the effort to administer the shots, failed to set up vaccine centers.”
In early 2020, under Warp Speed, contracts were entered into with six drug-makers. Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said “That was the whole approach of Operation Warp Speed. Not knowing which one would cross the finish line, the Trump administration took a portfolio approach and invested in multiple vaccines.”
The initial contracts were with Pfizer-BioNTech for 100 million doses, Moderna for 100 million dose, Johnson & Johnson for 100 million doses, AstraZeneca for 300 million doses, Novavax for 100 million doses, and Sanofi-GlaxoSmithKline for 100 million doses. These contracts, which could potentially accommodate 400 million people, were in place before any vaccine had been fully developed or approved.
Development of traditional vaccines can take up to 10 years. The Government Accountability Office report credited the role of Operation Warp Speed for shortening that time to just 10 months on average, due predominately to the sharing of information, technology and resources of government departments with pharmaceutical companies.
The Accountability Office found that Operation Warp Speed and the vaccine companies “adopted several strategies to accelerate vaccine development and mitigate risk,” allowing companies to start “large-scale manufacturing during clinical trials” and combine clinical trial phases or run them concurrently.
The Pfizer vaccine was approved by the the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11, 2020, with Moderna following on Dec. 18. On Dec. 23, the Trump administration ordered 200 million more doses from both companies. By Dec. 31, the federal government had contracted to buy at least 800 million vaccine doses. After reviewing the Warp Speed contracts, Politifact confirmed that they included enough vaccine doses that, once cleared by the FDA, could inoculate 550 million people — more than twice the U.S. adult population.
Five days after inauguration, the Biden administration announced agreements with Moderna and Pfizer to purchase an additional 200 million doses combined. When finalized on Feb. 11, that purchase brought the total US supply to 600 million doses of authorized vaccines, enough to vaccinate 300 million people.
On Feb. 27, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was authorized for emergency use. The Biden administration’s move to have Johnson & Johnson team up with Merck to achieve its production goals has helped increase the vaccine supply.
“Biden inherited the success of vaccine development done under Trump and then expanded on it,” said Kevin Gilligan, senior consultant with Biologics Consulting, a firm focused on pharmaceuticals. “And the Biden administration has the benefit of looking back at what was done well and what wasn’t, and making the appropriate corrective changes.”
President Biden stated that there was “no real plan to vaccinate most of the country,” but writing about a similar claim from Vice President Kamala Harris, The Washington Post fact checker explained there were vaccination plans in place that the Biden administration was able to build upon.
On Sept. 16, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services, with support from the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had released a report to Congress outlining a strategy for vaccine distribution and a playbook for states and localities “on how to plan and operationalize a vaccination response to COVID-19 within their respective jurisdictions.”
The Biden administration has taken a different philosophical approach from the previous administration as to how much of a role the federal government, as opposed to state and local entities, should play in administering vaccinations throughout the country.
As vaccine availability has increased, the Biden administration has taken steps to increase the number of people who can administer the vaccines and where the shots can be given.
The 56-page Government Accountability Office report establishes the key role Operation Warp Speed played in helping President Biden hit his established goal of “100 million shots in my first 100 days.” As confirmed by factcheck.org, data shows that the seven-day daily average was already at 1 million doses per day on President Biden’s second day in office.
Without Operation Warp Speed, vaccines would still be in various stages of development rather than in the arms of the millions of Americans who desire to receive it.
Instead of debating who gets the credit for its availability, we should be thanking both administrations for their efforts in the battle against COVID-19, and cheering that Americans are the ultimate winners.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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