Trump names ex-pharmaceutical executive, general to lead vaccine push

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President Trump plans to tap a former pharmaceutical executive and an Army general to lead Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s program aimed at speeding the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

Moncef Slaoui will serve as chief adviser to the project while Gen. Gustave Perna serves as chief operation officer, according to an administration official.

Slaoui is the former chairman of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines division. During his roughly eight years on the job, he oversaw the development of separate vaccines that guard against gastroenteritis in infants, pneumococcal disease and cervical cancer.

He currently works as a venture capitalist, but serves on the board of directors for the biotechnology company Moderna. His appointment is likely to raise questions among ethics watchdogs.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a spokesperson for Moderna.

Bloomberg News first reported on Slaoui’s selection.

Perna will serve as the COO of Operation Warp Speed. He is a logistics expert who serves as the leader of the Army Materiel Command, which handles the distribution of supplies and management of military installations. He previously oversaw policies and procedures used by Army logisticians worldwide.

The Trump administration last month launched Operation Warp Speed to push agencies to accelerate the timetable for a vaccine to guard against the novel coronavirus.

The effort involves HHS, the Department of Defense and other agencies, with the goal of having at least 100 million doses of a viable vaccine ready by the end of 2020.

The abridged development timeline will require companies to begin manufacturing vaccines as they go into clinical trials, meaning some vaccines that are produced that later prove ineffective will be useless.

Asked last month who was in charge of Operation Warp Speed, Trump took ownership of the project.

“I’m really in charge of it,” Trump told reporters, adding that various other officials were involved. “But I think probably, more than anything, I’m in charge. And I’m the one that gets blamed. And I get blamed anyway.”

Public health officials said in March that a vaccine will likely take up to 18 months to develop, making Operation Warp Speed’s timeline highly ambitious. Once a vaccine proves effective, it could take several more months or even years before it is widely available.

Experts have also warned that a coronavirus vaccine will likely not be a cure-all. The annual influenza vaccine is only effective roughly 40 percent of the time, according to government data.

There are dozens of coronavirus vaccines currently in development. There are more than 4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with the global death toll reaching nearly 300,000.  

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus vaccine Donald Trump operation warp speed

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