WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday announced “Operation Warp Speed,” his plan to flood the country with fully-approved coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2020.
But Trump added that developing a treatment for the disease wasn’t a precursor to reopening the economy: “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back,” he said.
The plan — which Trump described as “big” and “fast” — is to develop vaccines from a pool and begin manufacturing doses before they are approved in order to speed up the time from research to delivery.
“That was an exercise in unbounded optimism,” observed medical ethicist Arthur Caplan. “There is no way they’re going to have a usable vaccine for any significant number of people by the fall. That’s not going to happen.”
During the past two months there has been a tug of war between Trump, who predicted in early March that a vaccine against the coronavirus could be available in three or four months, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who predicted it would take 12 to 18 months before a vaccine might be available.
And inside the medical community, even with his longer window, Fauci was taken to task for being overly optimistic.
“They been looking for an AIDS vaccine for 30 years and don’t have one,” Caplan noted.
But as the Trump administration was able to rally the private sector in efforts to develop diagnostic tests, manufacture some 150,000 ventilators, and order some 800 million respirators and face masks, the administration developed confidence in the ability of public and private entities to tackle what seemed like impossible tasks.
Playing both sides
Testifying before a Senate committee Tuesday, Fauci warned that even if there is a vaccine in a more Trumpian timeline, “There’s no guarantee that the vaccine is actually going to be effective.”
An irate Trump accused Fauci of wanting “to play both sides of the equation.”
A masked Fauci stood behind Trump Friday as the president announced the new venture and introduced Moncef Slaoui — the former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines — and Army Gen. Gustave Perna, tasked with handling manufacturing and distribution logistics.
On Jan. 21, America saw its first confirmed coronavirus case. In March, the White House task force announced a “15 Days to Slow the Spread” campaign, which was followed by a “30 Days to Slow the Spread” campaign.
Even before the 30 days were over, Trump was talking about reopening America for business.
But others, like Ezekiel Emanuel, an adviser to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, warned that the country would not be able to return to normal for a year to 18 months pending the development of a vaccine or effective treatment.
Others who adopted a go-slow approach asserted that widespread testing must be available before Americans should return to work. Trump noted that America now is administering 350,000 tests per day.
Last week it became known that Katie Miller, spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence, tested positive for the coronavirus after testing negative the the day before with an Abbott Laboratories rapid test. On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert following a report that the test may return false negative results.
Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany noted during a Friday briefing that individuals who test negative with that rapid test but show symptoms should be tested again.
“The FDA statement mentioned 15 adverse reports, but that is out of 1.8 million tests that they’ve delivered. It’s a small fraction,” an administration official responded.
“I get what happened. Maybe it will turn out better than we think,” Caplan said of the report of false negatives.
“I like the warp speed,” Caplan said, but cautioned, “Don’t get people overexcited that you’re going to vaccinate your way out of this by Christmas. You’d have to put it in a journal of theology because it would be a miracle.”
“The Administration is obsessed with magic bullets—vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear. But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency. The CDC needs a director who can provide leadership without the threat of being silenced and who has the technical capacity to lead today’s complicated effort.”
-editorial, The Lancet