Following Joe Biden’s inauguration next week, there will be quite a few changes to COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the country. Under the Biden administration, not only will the President be changing the name from Operation Warp Speed, but he will also be changing the whole system itself.
One of Biden’s transition officials told CNN they are "moving to a new phase" of the coronavirus response. "Operation Warp Speed was the Trump administration's name for their response. We are structuring it differently and ours will have a new name," said the official.
As part of the transition and the new vaccine effort, Biden’s team announced the President-elect’s choices for his vaccine response team. This includes the promotion of Dr. David Kessler, who will be the chief scientific officer of the COVID-19 response. Dr. Kessler is a former head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and was appointed by the Bush administration to lead the FDA in 1990. There, he oversaw the rollout of the "Nutrition Facts label" on packaged foods and streamlined the FDA's drug approval process. Then, he led the agency during the AIDS/HIV epidemic.
“We are in a race against time, and we need a comprehensive strategy to quickly contain this virus,” Biden said in a statement regarding the new vaccine strategy. “The individuals announced today will bolster the White House’s COVID-19 Response team and play important roles in carrying out our rescue plan and vaccination program. At a time when American families are facing numerous challenges I know these public servants will do all that is needed to build our nation back better.”
Dr. Kessler will work within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under Xavier Becerra. His role will prioritize maximizing the supply of vaccines that are authorized or approved, and will also revolve around getting more vaccines online. General Gustave Perna, the current chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, will remain in the role in the new administration but under its "new structure." Dr. Kessler will also be taking over for Moncef Slaoui, who has led the vaccine effort under the Trump administration and announced this week he would resign as the Biden team requested. Joining these new officials in charge of vaccine rollout is Andy Slavitt, the former acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama, who will serve as a senior adviser to Jeff Zients, the coronavirus response coordinator.
So, what changes are in store? All of the new officials announced today will work to accelerate vaccine distribution and meet Biden’s ultimate goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office — a lofty one considering how faulty the distribution process has been so far. The President-elect has fiercely criticized the Trump administration for severely falling short of initial vaccine distribution goals. Biden is expected to lay out the full vaccine plan in detail during an address today. Thursday evening, he called the current vaccine rollout a “dismal failure.”
Without explicitly admitting this failure, the Trump administration has adapted its vaccine plan to stop lagging behind in distribution, and has begun releasing second doses immediately. "If President-elect Biden is suggesting that the maximum number of doses should be made available, consistent with ensuring that a second dose of vaccine will be there when the patient shows up, then that is already happening,” Operation Warp Speed spokesman Michael Pratt said last week before changing its plans. This move comes after the Trump administration criticized Biden's plan to do the same under his presidency.