‘Operation Warp Speed’: US government’s $10 million COVID vaccine project

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Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), holds up a model of SARS-CoV-2, known as the novel coronavirus, during a U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing on the plan to research, manufacture, and distribute a coronavirus vaccine, known as Operation Warp Speed, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, U.S., July 2, 2020. Credit: Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS.

The Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services are leading a $10 billion program to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.” The name indicates the hope that an effective vaccine can be developed quickly — by January and the start of a new presidential term. 

That possibility has come to dominate President Trump’s ongoing response to the pandemic — over more immediate measures that could be taken to curb the virus’ spread. 

Is it a likely scenario that the U.S. will have a vaccine several months from now? “It is a scenario. I don’t think we know enough yet to say if it’s likely,” says Dan Diamond, who covers health care policy and politics for Politico.  “There are still a number of hurdles that still have to be cleared. None of the vaccines are in the late stage — clinical trials yet in humans. There’s also a real question about how effective the vaccine that comes out will be.” 

He continues, “There are vaccines that could do quite a bit to inhibit symptoms but may not do much to stop the spread of the virus. I could get vaccinated, but people around me could get sick. So there’s a considerable worry that whatever the early vaccine looks like, that is not going to be enough to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. It will just be another tool in what should be a very big arsenal.” 

He notes that the fastest vaccine on record was for Mumps, which took four years. “The idea that we will be able to turn things around in a matter of months, there is not a track record for it. Could it happen? Absolutely. Should we count on it? Probably not.”