Originally announced in mid-May, Operation Warp Speed is the name given to the US federal government’s accelerated COVID-19 vaccine development initiative. It is a partnership between the government, multiple agencies, and the private companies working to find a vaccine.
The goal of Operation Warp Speed is to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by January of 2021. To facilitate that timeline, the federal government is granting funding and support to seven vaccines the initiative sees as the most promising candidates.
As far back as March 30, the US government began funding Johnson & Johnson and has since provided more than $2 billion to various vaccine developers, including Moderna and AstraZeneca. That comes from a pool of $10 billion allocated by congress through multiple channels, including through the CARES Act.
According to a fact sheet released by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the guiding ideal behind the operation is to increase the speed of development, while still maintaining the safety and testing steps usually involved in the process. “Rather than eliminating steps from traditional development timelines, steps will proceed simultaneously, such as starting manufacturing of the vaccine at industrial scale well before the demonstration of vaccine efficacy and safety as happens normally,” the statement reads. “This increases the financial risk, but not the product risk.”
While mass-producing large amounts of anything before knowing if it will work is a gamble, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who is leading the initiative, claims it is the best way to ensure a rapid distribution once a vaccine is found.
Meanwhile, Operation Warp Speed has attracted criticism for seeming to prioritize newer, faster, less tested techniques of vaccine development over tried and true methods. Those older methods include techniques that created the current vaccines for hepatitis, polio, and rabies.
Speaking with CNN, infectious disease expert and Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health Saad Omer, said, “New technologies are good, and they could perform well, but we should really be hedging our bets.”
Despite the reassurances from HHS, any perceived rush to find a vaccine could also harm the public’s faith that the vaccine is safe and works. Hoping to assuage those fears, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci spoke last week saying, “There is no chance in the world I’m going to be forced into agreeing to [release] something that I don’t think is safe and scientifically sound.”
These developments come as agencies such as the FDA continue to refine their COVID-19 guidelines and medical authorizations.
To learn more, view the entire current breakdown of Operation Warp Speed, on the HHS website.