Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.
What Happens Next is a podcast which covers economics, finance, history, politics and current events. Today’s session will be on Operation Warp Speed.
Our speaker is Paul Mango who helped manage Operation Warp Speed as the former deputy chief of the US Health and Human Services. He has just written a new book entitled Warp Speed: Inside the Operation that Beat COVID, the Critics and the Odds.
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Let’s begin with Paul Mango and his six-minute presentation.
Topic: Operation Warp Speed
Bio: Former Deputy Chief of the US Health and Human Services
Reading: Warp Speed: Inside the Operation that Beat COVID, the Critics and the Odds is here
I wrote Warp Speed for two reasons. One is the whole effort occurred during a presidential election year. And I think the success of Operation Warp Speed got buried because the media was intently focused on the campaign. Anything that was going well maybe wasn't going to be talked about in the media, particularly if it was the incumbent president. The second reason was because there's a lot of lessons to be learned from what we did well and what we would do differently. It's important for government policy makers, for the American people, for private industry, to understand how this happened. The previous best time for bringing a vaccine to market was four and a half years. And the Operation Warp Speed did it in 10 months.
Why was it successful? Five reasons I talk about in the book. One is private industry had invested in technology called messenger RNA. It was a technology platform that had never been used to develop vaccines, but it was available to us and we took a shot at it. We invested a couple billion dollars in it and it worked. The second reason was that we had a principle that basically said, do not permit the federal government to do anything that the private sector can do better. That was a guiding principle for us. The third reason was we had secretary Alex Azar who was 10 years in the pharmaceutical industry before he was a secretary and he understood the risk thresholds and what the pharmaceutical industry would do and would not do.
And he understood that they wouldn't start manufacturing vaccines in a normal course if they didn't get FDA approval. So we did in parallel things that were typically done in series, and we started manufacturing vaccines long before the FDA approved anything.
The fourth reason was Moncef Slaoui, who was our chief scientific advisor had a venture capital mindset. He said, we're going to invest in six different vaccines across three different technology platforms. We only need one to win.
The very last reason was just a management philosophy that permitted experts rather than people with lofty titles, to do what was necessary to get the job done.
What would we have done differently if we could do it over again? I think we failed pretty miserably at communicating with the American people about how safe and effective these vaccines were.
And we were in a very difficult situation because if we started talking about safe and effective vaccines before the FDA adjudicated it, we would've been accused of trying to unduly influence the regulators. So, we didn't talk much about it, but what we could have talked about was the standards we raised for these clinical trials -- 50% more participants in these trials than in a typical vaccine clinical trial and a longer interval between the time people got their injections and the time we evaluated them for any type of adverse reaction. So, these were actually higher standards than was ever used before. So those were things we would do differently, lessons for why we were successful, and why I wrote the book in the first place.
This Saturday’s Episode: Mark Galeotti
Topic: Russia’s Ongoing War in Ukraine
Bio: Director of Mayak Intelligence and Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute
Reading: The Weaponisation of Everything: A Field Guide to the New Way of War is here