Operation Warp Speed has identified 14 “promising candidates” for a COVID-19 vaccine, announced the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Operation Warp Speed is a partnership between the HHS and the Defense Department that aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to the American people by January 2021.
“Operation Warp Speed is a historic effort to bring vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to the American people in record time,” says HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who oversees the project with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“President Trump looked at the timelines that all of these players in the pharmaceutical company and elsewhere said would be needed to bring these products to market and he said, ‘That’s not acceptable,'” continues Azar. Operation Warp Speed will “compress and wring out every inefficiency in the process, take away every unused day, and also at the same time scale up manufacturing so as we get vaccines that work, we’ll be able to actually distribute them right away because we’re manufacturing at the same time.”
In other words, steps that typically occur sequentially will occur simultaneously. This is something that could only be accomplished with federal assistance, as private sector drug companies could never afford the financial risk.
“The return on this investment to our country in terms of lives saved and economic confidence is far greater than that of any single vaccine developer,” said one official. “So while we’ll be lowering the financial risk for these companies, we will not be lowering any standards of development, safety, or efficacy.”
Operation Warp Speed has identified 14 vaccines from more than 100 currently in development and will narrow the pool to 7 as trials continue. Large-scale trials for the demonstration of safety and efficacy will proceed for the most promising vaccines.
The HHS has already given $483 million to support a Moderna vaccine that entered Phase 1 trials on March 16th and invested $456 million in a Johnson & Johnson vaccine that will enter Phase 1 this summer.
Operation Warp Speed is working with several companies to expand domestic manufacturing and supplies of specialized materials, including a $138 million contract with ApiJect for pre-filled syringes, a $204 million contract with Corning for glass vials, and a $143 million contract with Si02 Materials Science for the company’s glass-coated plastic container.
“A tiered approach will be used for this vaccine distribution,” said another official. “This approach will be based on the methodology that has been used for pandemic influenza planning for decades, as well as what we’ve learned from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The system prioritizes the elderly, individuals with preexisting conditions, and those performing “essential services.”
If researchers succeed in meeting the January 2021 timeline, it will be the fastest that a vaccine has even been developed in response to a new virus and will represent a major victory for President Trump.