Operation Warp Speed Chief Advisor Dr. Moncef Slaoui has submitted his letter of resignation at the request of President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming team, despite a clause that requires him to remain in office an additional month to support the transition.
Dr. Slaoui’s obligations to the Warp Speed team will be reduced after Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday. It has not yet been confirmed who will assume Slaoui’s duties after his departure. Currently, Jeff Zients is Biden’s coordinator of the response to COVID-19, while Bechara Choucair will focus on logistics to accelerate mass inoculation in the nation.
Slaoui had said he did not plan to resign until two vaccines and two therapies for coronavirus had been successful, which happened last month when the Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) authorized distribution of the Moderna vaccine.
Last week, Slaoui said he decided to extend his stay to ensure the operation continues to function, mentioning that “we are close to the point where my added value is limited.”
Who is Dr. Moncef Slaoui?
Slaoui served for 30 years as an executive at GSK, where he held the position of director for ten years and was also head of Research and Development during his time as a pharmacist.
After his resignation from GSK in 2017, Slaoui turned his attention to investing in the pharmaceutical industry, where he would come to Moderna as an investor and member of the board of directors. Slaoui also became a major investor in the Medicxi firm.
Slaoui resigned from the board of directors of Moderna and Medicxi in May when he was called upon by the White House to support Operation Warp Speed’s efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. To avoid conflicts of interest, he decided to sell his stake in these companies. Despite some criticism, he was allowed to keep his shares in GSK.
How is Operation Warp Speed going?
The American government invested more than $10 billion in Operation Warp Speed to obtain 300 million doses of vaccine by the end of January 2021, an unprecedented amount for vaccine development.
Normally, the development of a vaccine requires decades of research and testing to find a safe and efficient solution, something that, thanks to Operation Warp Speed, seems to have been achieved in only ten months without compromising safety.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nine million Americans have already received one of the two doses of the vaccine, although the goal was to have more than 20 million Americans vaccinated by December. The United States continues to be the second largest inoculator in the world after China, which has vaccinated a large portion of its population with still experimental vaccines.
Some states have asked to make vaccine purchases on their own, such as Michigan, whose Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, asked Trump for permission to purchase 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is at risk of running out of vaccine doses if the government does not ship new shipments soon. De Blasio pledged to vaccinate 1,000,000 New Yorkers by the end of January.
Public health experts have stated that rigid rules for vaccine distribution would be limiting the effectiveness of vaccine delivery. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told states that strict adherence to distribution guidelines could limit inoculation efforts.
In an interview with NBC, Adams said, “If the demand isn’t there in 1a, move to 1b and keep going down. And if the demand isn’t there in that group, move those vaccines to another group.”
Priority groups 1a and 1b are established by a CDC advisory committee: 1a are health care workers and nursing home residents, 1b are people over 75 and essential front-line workers, and the list continues according to group prioritization.