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News : “We’re failing”: Ex-Warp Speed leader proud, deflects blame on vaccines


President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.

 

President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Enlarge / President Donald Trump listens as Moncef Slaoui, the former head of GlaxoSmithKlines vaccines division, speaks about coronavirus vaccine development in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Moncef Slaoui, the former head scientist for the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, is proud of his team’s work in helping to develop and distribute vaccine in an unprecedented timeframe amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to immunizing the population, “overall, we’re failing,” he says.

The immunologist and former head of vaccines for GlaxoSmithKline resigned from his role on Warp Speed at the request of the Biden Administration nearly two weeks ago. Though the Administration also quickly scrubbed away the “Warp Speed” name—which was repeatedly criticized for giving the impression that vaccines would be hastily developed without proper testing—Slaoui agreed to stay on into February to help with the transition. With his time in the federal position dwindling, he sat down for an interview with Science magazine to review how things have gone.

Overall, Slaoui is proud of his work, his team, and the monumental tasks they accomplished, he said. “Between May [2020] and now, we’ve moved five vaccines into Phase III trials, two have been authorized, two are completing Phase III—and one of those could be approved imminently… By all standards, this is absolutely exceptional,” he said.

“Our mission in its second piece, with my co-leader Gen. [Gustave] Perna, was to distribute the vaccines, take them from point A to the point of immunization” he went on. “That’s how we designed it and worked it out with all the jurisdictions in the country.”

Misunderstandings

Still, he acknowledged that the vaccination effort was an overall failure. The effort has been criticized widely for its slow rollout and problems with data reporting and supply transparency. Nearly half of the 41 million doses distributed so far are still waiting to go into arms. “Indeed, the immunization definitely is not working appropriately” he said. “And as long as that is not working appropriately, we’re failing. Overall, we’re failing, because the objective is to immunize.”

But Slaoui deflected criticism of the end game from the work of Warp Speed. When asked if the Trump Administration erred in leaving it up to states to figure out administration and instead should have done more to help states coordinate vaccination—which is what the Biden Administration plans to do—Slaoui said he was “caught in the middle” of that issue. He called the criticism of Warp Speed for not getting more shots in arms a “huge misunderstanding” of Warp Speed’s role.

He also bristled at reports that Biden Administration officials have expressed shock at the state of the federal vaccination effort, suggesting they essentially inherited no planning from the previous administration, including Warp Speed.

“How can you have discovered two vaccines, developed them all the way to approval, manufacture, and distribute with 99.9 percent precision 14 million doses to 14,000 sites and it’s labeled as ‘There is no plan’?” he asked.

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