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Trump’s Operation Warp Speed ‘very helpful’ for COVID vaccine development: author

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Former president Donald Trump in recent weeks has intensified his public support for COVID-19 vaccines, revealing that he received a booster shot and denouncing politicians who withhold their booster status as "gutless."

The flurry of remarks comes as some public health experts have called for a second version of the Trump administration's vaccine development program, Operation Warp Speed, in response to the emergence of variants like Omicron, Axios reports.

But the push for a new iteration of the vaccine program rekindles debate about the successes and failures of the first initiative.

In a new interview, Gregory Zuckerman — an investigative reporter at the Wall Street Journal and author of "A Shot to Save the World: The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine" — says Operation Warp Speed was "very helpful" to U.S. vaccine development, despite some missteps.

"Like most every other topic in society today, it's sort of black and white," Zuckerman told Yahoo Finance on Nov. 15, before the detection of the Omicron variant. "Either Operation Warp Speed saves everything, and we have to give Donald Trump all the credit, or it was useless."

"I come down somewhere in the middle, meaning that Operation Warp Speed was very helpful," he adds. "There was a lot of money that was given to these companies [and] resources too, little parts that were necessary from all over the country that were brought to the necessary spots.”

Launched in April 2020, Operation Warp Speed drew on $14 billion in federal investment to foster public-private partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.

While Pfizer (PFE) declined government funding for research, it later sold its vaccine to the U.S. for $2 billion. On the other hand, Moderna (MRNA) accepted a total of $4.1 billion in public investment for research and development as well as the acquisition of 200 million doses.

The program helped the U.S. develop a vaccine over a short timespan of 10 months, far less than the 10 years it took to develop a measles vaccine or the 16 years it took to achieve a Hepatitis B vaccine, McKinsey & Company noted in a report last March.

But Operation Warp Speed wasn't perfect. The program spent $1.2 billion on the purchase of 300 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. U.S. health authorities still have not approved that vaccine.

Despite the ultimate success of the Moderna vaccine, Operation Warp Speed focused its early investment and attention on the AstraZeneca candidate, Zuckerman said.

"You have to remember that Warp Speed made an early bet on a different vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine," Zuckerman says. "It did not give money to Moderna early on when it was desperate for money."

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at an Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at an Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

To be sure, Trump has opposed some vaccine-related policies — especially mandates. Earlier this month, he urged supporters to "rise up" against possible vaccine mandates for young children, Business Insider reported.

All three Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump joined the majority earlier this month in rejecting the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test rule for businesses with more than 100 employees.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Zuckerman noted that Operation Warp Speed contributed to U.S. vaccine development but doesn't account entirely for its success.

"Warp Speed was very helpful," he says. "But you don't want to say it was all due to Warp Speed — the success of these remarkable vaccines."

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