Donald Trump surrounded by General Gustave Perna (left), Chief of Operations for Operation Warp Speed, and Moncef Slaoui, Scientific Manager, at the White House on September 18, 2020 (AFP / SAUL LOEB)
On May 15, Donald Trump announced an operation to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 before the end of the year, a mission now nearing completion and little affected by the incident in the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine. / Oxford, one of the six backed by Washington.
“A massive scientific, industrial and logistics enterprise, never seen in our country since the Manhattan Project,” at which the atomic bomb was given, the president then declared, accused at the time of going it alone and promoting “vaccine nationalism.”
He calls the operation “Warp Speed,” a science fiction term that means faster than light. Led by an Army general and a former GSK laboratory, it combines the expertise of scientists from the Department of Health and Defense logistics.
Six months later, the “ miracle, ” a word scientists hate but fond of Mr. Trump, comes into view: the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine has already submitted the results of clinical trials to the US Agency. drugs (FDA) expected for authorization shortly after Dec. 10. That of Moderna, a small, directly subsidized US company, could soon follow.
In January, a third, developed by the American group Johnson & Johnson, could deliver results, then doses, and help achieve the goal of a vaccination offered to all Americans by April.
In total, the operation focused on six projects, two per technology, in the spring and summer to diversify risks: Pfizer and Moderna (new messenger RNA technology), Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca (viral vector), Novavax and Sanofi / GSK (on a protein basis). The hope was that at least one worked.
Initially, the vaccine that Oxford had developed together with the industrialist AstraZeneca came first. In June, the group’s director general announced that “we need to know by September whether we have an effective vaccine or not”.
But a first incident occurred in early September when a participant in the British trial became ill. It took six weeks for the trial to resume in the United States.
Then an ambiguity in the announcement of the efficacy results, surrounding a dosing error, forced the group to announce a new trial on Thursday to dispel any doubts.
– No thank you –
Analysts believe the United States can afford the luxury of going without AstraZeneca, pending further results. Millions of Americans will be vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna before the New Year if the FDA gives the green light.
The six Warp Speed projects are the ones the rest of the world has been betting on, along with dozens more.
The European Union has ordered doses from six manufacturers, five of which are supported by Warp Speed.
“The strength of the investment has had an extremely important accelerating effect,” Loïc Chabanier of the EY consultancy told AFP in Paris.
US support has helped fund large-scale clinical trials, as well as upgrade or build factories.
“The Americans funded the clinical trial for the entire planet,” Moderna chief Stéphane Bancel told AFP. The Trump administration also ordered 100 million doses, paid for even when the tests failed.
“I’m not Pfizer or AstraZeneca,” says Bancel. “I need a lot of money.”
But experts generally refuse to give credit to Donald Trump, accused of disastrous management of the pandemic and of investing everything in future pharmaceutical responses at the expense of immediate public health measures that could have saved thousands of people. lives this year.
“America is not good at prevention,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told AFP in September, very angry with Mr. Trump. “But she’s good at the life sciences.”
“It’s a power of the United States, it has nothing to do with Trump. Sure, he gave billions of dollars … but it was the companies that made this happen,” said the expert, also praising the National Institutes’ excellence. of Health who co-developed the Moderna vaccine and led the clinical trials.
ico / wash