The Trump Administration this week signed a $1.95 billion deal with US-based Pfizer Inc. and German biotech firm BioNTech to secure 100 million doses of a COVID vaccine that has yet to be approved.
The deal is part of Operation Warp Speed, a historic effort that aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe and effective COVID vaccine to the American public by January 2021.
Among other techniques, Operation Warp Speed streamlines the typical approval process by scaling up manufacturing before a vaccine is approved. Studies suggest the average vaccine takes 10 or more years to be fully developed and has an average failure rate of 93% while in development.
“Through Operation Warp Speed, we are assembling a portfolio of vaccines to increase the odds that the American people will have at least one safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of the year,” says HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
“We’re not concerned about supply chain,” continues Azar. “We’ve secured that to be able to ensure that we’ll be able to vaccinate the American people once we get vaccines that are demonstrated safe and effective to the FDA’s gold standard of approval or authorization.”
Pfizer and BioNTech are studying at least four potential vaccines, including a first-of-its-kind vaccine that utilizes gene-based technology known as messenger RNA. As announced this week, the most advanced of Pfizer and BioNTech’s candidates has been shown to produce antibodies that “neutralize” COVID and will be entering large-scale trials this month.
If approved, the HHS and Defense Department will receive 100 million doses and can request up to 500 million additional doses.
Operation Warp Speed also includes a $1.2 billion agreement with AstraZeneca PLC to receive 300 million doses of a vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and a $1.6 billion pact with Novavax Inc. to support the development of its vaccine and to expand manufacturing.
In March, Operation Warp Speed invested $486 million in Moderna and $456 million in Johnson & Johnson to boost progress on those companies’ vaccine efforts.
When a COVID vaccine gains FDA approval, it will likely be delivered in a tiered approach that prioritizes the elderly, individuals with preexisting conditions, and those who perform “essential services.” The HHS says Americans will receive the vaccine free of charge.
Author’s Note: Trump is doing exactly what he said he would; he is taking a massive financial risk and pre-ordering vaccines that have not been approved. This is the only way to ensure a COVID vaccine is available as soon as possible.