Together, we achieved warp speed
The scourge of COVID-19 still runs rampant as 2020 (boo!) morphs into 2021 (yay!). But some new superheroes appear ready to subdue it: the approved vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna and those still under development by Johnson and Johnson and other biochemical firms.
One of the best innovations undertaken by the Trump administration is Operation Warp Speed.
The program, announced in early May, set out to put development of COVID-19 vaccines on a fast track, and it succeeded admirably. Operation Warp Speed, operating across at least a dozen government agencies, has approved upwards of $11 billion in funding for at least eight companies to expedite development and preparation for manufacturing their respective vaccine products.
The two companies whose vaccines have been approved for distribution in the United States have different relationships with Operation Warp Speed.
Pfizer, a 171-year-old company, had begun COVID-19 vaccine development with its partner biotech firm BioNTech in mid-January, nearly a year ago, as soon as the disease burst onto the world stage. When Warp Speed was announced, Pfizer decided against taking the project’s funding for research and development in order to stay clear of government bureaucracy requirements.
But in July, Warp Speed placed an advance-purchase order of $2 billion with Pfizer for 100 million doses if Pfizer’s vaccine received authorization for distribution. That authorization was granted on Dec. 11.
Moderna, only about 10 years old, was one of the companies that received development funding. Its vaccine was approved for distribution in America a few days after Pfizer’s.
The Trump administration is justly proud of Operation Warp Speed.
Vaccine development normally takes several years from initiation until authorization for use. With the help of Warp Speed, two COVID-19 vaccines have rolled out in a matter of months, and more are likely on the way. Some Greene County residents have already received the first of their two vaccinations.
But in actuality, the research for both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines has been ongoing for decades. The genetic technology they use is called “synthetic messenger RNA,” a variation on the natural substance that drives protein production in the body’s cells.
Among the dozen or so experimental vaccines in late-stage trials around the world, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are the only two that rely on messenger RNA, nicknamed “mRNA.” Their process is different from the methodology of vaccines already in use for other diseases.
I don’t understand mRNA. I’m not going to try to explain it, and you certainly wouldn’t understand it either if I tried. But what I do know is that the success of the two new vaccines that employ it is a classic example of the potential for public-private partnerships.
It’s likely that mRNA technology would have proven itself successful eventually. It’s been researched in universities and corporations alike, both public and private entities. But rolling it out in a matter of months through government financial incentives — that’s entirely public in concept.
Operation Warp Speed saw the possibilities for a joint public-private effort to rein in COVID-19.
Warp Speed isn’t reserved just for COVID-19 vaccines: government funding has also been distributed to companies developing therapies to reduce the severity of the disease once an individual is infected.
There are plenty of other opportunities for joint public-private undertakings in today’s America.
If the two political parties in Washington could grasp that potential in the next few years, all Americans would be the beneficiaries.
What most of us want is problem-solvers, not ideologues. What a gift 2021 would then be for all of us.