Challenged by members of Congress on whether a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine is possible by year’s end, the Army general and master logistician chosen to lead the development effort says he is convinced the Department of Defense will deliver.
“What I thought was an aspirational goal 30 days ago when I was announced by the president, I have recently come to the conclusion that it is more and more likely to occur,” said U.S. Army Gen. Gus Perna, COO of the vaccine and therapeutic development effort dubbed Operation Warp Speed.
President Trump announced the joint Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services initiative on May 15, promising to deliver 300 million coronavirus vaccines by Jan. 1, 2021.
In the intervening month, the public and Congress have worried that a vaccine will be rushed to the public without sufficient testing.
“We want a vaccine, not a headline,” said Sen. Jack Reed, in Perna’s Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Thursday.
The Rhode Island Democrat cited two stumbles in the race to quickly respond to coronavirus needs. First, the failure to adequately source personal protective equipment and the reliance on PPE from China to meet urgent hospital needs. The second was the misrepresentation of the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a suitable coronavirus therapeutic before it turned out to cause collateral damage.
“The key to our success is to ensure we rely on science to assess our options, effectiveness, and risk,” Perna told members of Congress. “All medical protocols will be executed, and vaccines will be FDA approved.”
The Department of Defense was chosen for the much-hyped Operation Warp Speed because of its logistics capacity.
Perna, in particular, was displaced from a pending retirement to command the effort based on his leadership of Army Materiel Command, where he oversees some 190,000 service members, civilians, and contractors working on the military’s logistics.
The joint public-private partnership to produce a vaccine and therapeutics is backed by $10 billion from the CARES Act.
Early vaccine efforts by industry partners Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and AstraZeneca are in trials or about to begin.
“The trials could be lengthy as they work through the science of the effectiveness of the vaccine,” Perna said. “Only after the science is provided to the FDA and the FDA makes their independent assessments will we be able to distribute the vaccines that we’re producing.”
Operation Warp Speed scientists from the Pentagon and HHS briefed reporters earlier this week, saying only the government has the capacity to ramp up logistical preparations at the same time that vaccines are undergoing tests and evaluation by the FDA. The result will be a vaccine ready at scale when approved.
“The decision on the efficacy of the vaccine is strictly an FDA responsibility, and I will personally commit to ensure that we will execute all medical protocols in accordance with requirements today,” said Perna.
Perna stressed that meeting the timeline will not sacrifice public safety or ethics.
“At the end of the day, I am responsible and accountable for all decisions made in execution of our mission,” he said. “I commit to you that it will be legal, ethical, and moral.”
Author: Abraham Mahshie
Source: Washington Examiner: Coronavirus vaccine by year’s end no longer ‘aspirational’ but ‘likely,’ says top general