Reporters

Operation Warp Speed: How US Covid-19 vaccination plan became politicised

REPORTERS
REPORTERS © FRANCE 24
By: Matthieu MABIN | Fanny ALLARD | Kethevane GORJESTANI
21 min

Operation Warp Speed is the name of an ambitious programme put in place by the Trump administration to deliver Covid-19 vaccines across the US. Widely touted during the presidential election campaign and officially rolled out in December, it was supposed to have 20 million people vaccinated by January 1 of this year. But by that date, barely 25 percent of the target had been reached. So what happened? Has the operation fallen victim to politicisation? Our Washington correspondents Matthieu Mabin and Fanny Allard report.

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On December 12, after more than eight months of a deadly pandemic, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light to Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine against Covid-19, soon to be followed by approval of the Moderna jab. What came as a relief for ordinary Americans was a victory for Donald Trump. Highly criticised for his handling of the coronavirus, the 45th President of the United States had promised back in May that a vaccine would be developed before the end of 2020. At that time, he also announced the creation of a vast distribution operation called Warp Speed (in reference to the US TV series "Star Trek").

A huge logistical challenge

Operation Warp Speed aimed at coordinating the delivery of vaccines throughout the country. This huge logistical challenge required the participation of pharmaceutical laboratories, the army, as well as public and private postal companies. Some $10 billion (€8.3bn) were spent on the operation, a significant portion of that going to the well-known courier firm FedEx.

During the presidential campaign, hoping to make people forget his initial scepticism about the virus and the inaction of the White House, Trump had made Operation Warp Speed one of the key pillars of his communications strategy, repeating over and over that vaccines would turn the pandemic into a bad memory barely two or three months after the start of the vaccination campaign.

But now, more than a month after the start of the operation and despite the mobilisation of the logistics giants, the results have fallen short.

A political issue

Although the Trump administration had promised that 20 million people would be vaccinated by January 1, barely 25 percent of the target has been met to date. America no longer expects to beat the virus before summer 2021, at the earliest.

In the meantime, the US remains the country most affected by Covid-19 in the world, with more than 23 million cases and almost 390,000 deaths to date.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, has denounced a political battle amid the pandemic and said he is "really worried about the politicisation of how the vaccine was discovered", which harms the work of researchers and scientists.

"It created a tension; a loss of trust among the public in general," the Moroccan-born Belgian-American epidemiologist told FRANCE 24.

>> Watch our full interview with Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed

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