Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a chief scientific adviser on former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed panel, said that 90% of President Joe Biden’s vaccine rollout plan is the same as the previous administration’s approach to vaccinating U.S. citizens against coronavirus.
During an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” host Margaret Brenna brought up allegations made by Biden, who said the Trump administration didn’t secure enough vaccine doses when he took office.
“Just over four weeks ago, America had no real plan to vaccinate most of the country. My predecessor — as my mother would say, ‘God love him’ — failed to order enough vaccines, failed to mobilize the effort to administer the shots, failed to set up vaccine centers,” Biden said on Feb. 21. “That changed the moment we took office.”
Slaoui responded to Biden’s assertions, “I think that’s a very negative description of the reality. I do think that we had plans, and in fact, 90% of what’s happening now is the plan that we had.”
“Of course the first thing was to accelerate the development of the vaccine,” Slaoui said. “We contracted specifically 100 million doses of vaccine, but also built into the contract options to acquire more vaccines once we knew they are effective. And the plan was to order more vaccines when- when we knew they are more effective. So I think what’s happening is right. But I think what’s happening is, frankly, what was the plan. Substantially what was the plan.”
Slaoui admitted that the Trump administration didn’t plan to use sports arena as vaccination sites, and hadn’t discussed using the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of their vaccine strategy. He did say that Operation Warp Speed laid out the groundwork to use health care centers and pharmacies, which he said is where “the bulk of vaccine distribution is happening.”
Slaoui noted that the Trump administration had an original plan of having “most of adult Americans over the age of 18 that want to be vaccinated will have been vaccinated” by June.
In December, Slaoui told the Washington Post, “Hopefully by the middle of the year, I hope most Americans will have been immunized, which means the level of hesitancy that exists currently will have been decreased because people will have learned more information … about the vaccine.” He added that the Trump administration “should have this pandemic under control in the second half of 2021.”
Slaoui, who was previously the head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine division, revealed that the Trump administration was in talks with Merck to use the American multinational pharmaceutical company’s facilities for “pandemic purposes.”
Brennan asked Slaoui if there were any flaws in Operation Warp Speed.
“I think there were two areas for me that are key lessons to learn in terms of how things should have been done differently,” he replied. “One is on the communication, and I think we have failed to communicate the fact that vaccine doses availability is going to be, you know, slow over time because- because we went so fast. There is no stock of vaccine. It was impossible to have enough vaccine doses quickly enough compared to the expectations. So we were unable, as we communicated in the month of November and December and January, to- to manage the expectation.”
“And I think the second thing is indeed, in the actual immunization, the approach taken was a philosophical approach that was frankly part of what the previous administration philosophy is, which is the federal government is going to provide vaccine,” he continued. “The states should be accountable for actually immunizing. And that’s- that’s the principle on which we have worked. Clearly, there was a need for the states to actually learn, which they did in reality. And that’s how improvements are happening now and also for the central government to participate in that learning process and accelerate it.”
Slaoui said the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been a “big mistake” by some.
“I do believe that it’s a mistake to politicize a health issue. It’s a big mistake,” Slaoui said. “Many people probably have died or suffered because the whole situation became so political that, you know, emotions overtook rationality.”
“I’m very concerned, very concerned that for political motivation, people decide to actually place themselves and the people around them in harms’ way by refusing to be vaccinated,” he added. “I think- I think we need to do every effort we can to explain to people that vaccines have nothing to do with politics. These vaccines are safe. They are highly effective. They’re going to help them protect themselves and protect the people around them from the spread of this virus and critically from the potential appearance of new variants.”