By Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith
The year 2020 was a difficult one, but as the year draws to a close, I want to highlight something about the year that went right.
Operation Warp Speed accomplished what had been considered nearly impossible: the development, manufacture, and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine to combat COVID-19.
President Trump announced Operation Warp Speed in May. His Administration recognized that meeting the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic would require the investment of Federal Government resources, partnership between the public, private, and scientific sectors, and cutting red tape that would impede delivery of a safe and effective vaccine.
This effort was supported by almost $10 billion in funding included in the CARES Act passed by Congress with my support.
The project focused on six vaccine candidates. Seven months after Operation Warp Speed was launched and less than one year after COVID-19 began spreading widely around the globe, two vaccine candidates were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use.
On December 11, the FDA approved for emergency use the first vaccine created by Pfizer. After clinical trials including over 43,000 participants, the vaccine was found to be 95 percent effective.
A vaccine developed by Moderna was subsequently approved for emergency use on December 18. Thirty thousand people participated in its clinical trials, and its efficacy rate is 94.5 percent.
These vaccines are the fastest ever produced for a novel pathogen. In fact, the average development timeline for a vaccine is eight to twelve years. Operation Warp Speed reduced the time needed by maximizing the number of participants in Phase 3 trials and manufacturing vaccine doses while waiting for the FDA’s emergency use authorization order.
While bureaucratic hurdles were lowered, the vaccine development process did not skimp on safety.
As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health matters, I was briefed repeatedly throughout the process or involved in hearings featuring public health officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the FDA, as well as the vaccine manufacturers. I am confident that they maintained high safety standards as they pursued a vaccine.
While the vaccines were under development, the Trump Administration planned ahead for their delivery and administration to Americans. It purchased millions of doses of the prospective vaccines and made agreements with pharmacies that would be able to vaccinate people.
While enough vaccine doses will be manufactured to cover most of the population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the priorities for vaccination while supplies remain limited. It suggested health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities be first in line, followed by older adults and frontline essential workers, all groups with a higher susceptibility to the coronavirus than other parts of the population.
The vaccines are broadly safe, but caution is appropriate for people with allergic reactions and certain other conditions. The CDC recommends that you talk to your doctor if you have had a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable therapies to determine if a COVID vaccine is a safe decision for you. Further, if you have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID vaccine, the CDC recommends not getting that vaccine.
I also believe that vaccinations should not be mandatory. This would be true particularly for people who object to taking it due to their religious principles or as a matter of conscience. I also reject the idea of individuals being required to carry around a vaccination certificate, which is too close to the identification papers of highly restricted societies for my comfort.
Operation Warp Speed is just one component of the Federal Government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus. Other therapeutics and treatments have also been developed at a rapid pace and are also being deployed as the pandemic still inflicts widespread sickness.
The United States has long excelled at scientific innovation, but even among our country’s long list of achievements, from the light bulb to the first manned landing on the Moon, Operation Warp Speed stands out – for its scale, speed, safety, and ultimately lives saved. Amid all the bad news of 2020, this accomplishment is one worth praising.