July 03, 2021
Jim Inhofe, a Republican, represents Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate and is ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
When President Biden declares the United States’ “independence” from the covid-19 pandemic on July 4, he should give credit where it’s due: former president Donald Trump and the Trump administration program that made it possible, Operation Warp Speed — which gave us the world’s most effective coronavirus vaccines in record time.
In March 2020, life as we knew it abruptly stopped — no church, no family gatherings, no restaurants, no movies, no offices, no sports … and nowhere to go. The pandemic has been devastating. Too many died, and even more fell ill. Within two weeks after a pandemic was declared, more than 54 million American children were out of school, and 30.3 million Americans filed for unemployment in the month that followed.
At the time, few believed life could return to normal without a vaccine — and even fewer believed that a vaccine would soon be available. Yet President Trump knew that the United States couldn’t afford to wait. His administration established Operation Warp Speed, charged it with making a vaccine available by the end of 2020, and appointed the exceptionally capable Gen. Gustave Perna to run the logistics effort.
The Operation Warp Speed approach was straightforward yet unprecedented: Warp Speed invested in five vaccine candidates and contracted to buy a sixth. Previous research into coronaviruses enabled vaccine trial phases to be condensed, and 30,000-person Phase III trials commenced within months. Finally, as the vaccines were being tested, Warp Speed ramped up production and distribution plans, so vaccines would be available and ready to ship as soon as they were emergency-approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Despite this brilliant strategy, many Democrats didn’t believe that Operation Warp Speed would succeed — and, worse, cast doubt on the viability, safety and efficacy of vaccines.
NBC News ran a “fact check” in which doctors said the Trump administration would need a “miracle” to deliver a vaccine by the end of 2020. Ahead of the election, Democrats repeatedly raised concerns about the vaccine development process. Kamala D. Harris, then a U.S. senator, insinuated that President Trump would personally order the vaccine approvals rather than leaving it to scientists, because scientists “will be muzzled, they will be suppressed, they will be sidelined, because [Trump is] looking at an election coming up in less than 60 days.” This was a blatant conspiracy theory, and utterly wrong.
Perna testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2020 that if a vaccine were approved by the end of that year, his team would be ready to distribute it immediately. That’s exactly what happened. The FDA approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on the night of Friday, Dec. 11, and the first shots were administered the morning of Monday, Dec. 14. In the months that followed, as production scaled up, Warp Speed delivered safe, effective vaccines as it produced them, effectively moving doses from conveyor belts to states for distribution within days.
By May 2021, the United States had a widely available vaccine surplus, thanks to Operation Warp Speed. Today, any qualifying American who wants a vaccine can simply walk into their local pharmacy and receive, free, the most effective coronavirus vaccines in the world. As a result, reports of new covid-19 cases per day have dropped by almost 95 percent since January, even as more transmissible variants have emerged.
Yet rather than celebrating Operation Warp Speed as a national achievement, the Biden administration renamed it. Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, tweeted, “OWS is the Trump team’s name for their program. We are phasing in a new structure, which will have a different name than OWS.” They also replaced its senior scientific adviser and claimed Warp Speed’s long-standing distribution benchmarks as their own successes. The Biden administration is doing exactly what Vice President Harris falsely accused President Trump of doing last year: politicizing the vaccine program.
President Biden must correct this by honoring all the men and women behind Operation Warp Speed, and thank them for their unprecedented, lifesaving work — especially Perna, who retired Friday. Biden should also acknowledge Trump’s foresight in launching Warp Speed. Ending the covid-19 pandemic is not a partisan matter, and those who have brought us close to that goal deserve the United States’ heartfelt thanks.
This commentary originally appeared in the Washington Post.