Politics, Science and the Outstanding Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine


The President was particularly enthusiastic about this goal. At a meeting in the White House on March 2, Dr. Fauci, when Mr. Bancel and other pharmaceutical executives set out their vaccination schedules that it would take “a year to a year and a half” for the doses to reach the general public.

Mr. Trump replied, “I like the sound of a few months better.”

Warp Speed ​​had two leaders. Responsible for the science was Dr. Slaoui, who led research and development for many years at drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline and was a member of Moderna’s Board of Directors. In charge of the logistics was General Gustave F. Perna, a four-star general who headed the Army’s Matériel command.

The operation, which consisted of a suite on the seventh floor and an operations center on the second floor of the Health and Human Services Headquarters, had a military character. Its leaders discussed the book “Freedom’s Forge,” a report on how American industry armed the military in World War II, and imposed what is known as a “rhythm of combat” of meetings, including a daily session on vaccines at 8:00 am. Dozens of military officers are said to have worked in uniform.

The biggest decision, said Dr. Slaoui, was which vaccine candidates should step down from nearly 50 possible candidates. His team chose three types of vaccines, each to be pursued by two companies in the event one company goes down. Federal officials referred to the finalists as “horses,” a nod to the race between them.

Moderna and Pfizer would pursue the mRNA vaccines considered to be the fastest to develop. The government agreed to pay much of the development costs, lead the clinical trials, and even supply supplies to factories.

Dr. Bourla wasn’t interested. As one of the world’s leading vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer didn’t need government help in developing a new product, and with annual sales approaching $ 52 billion, Pfizer didn’t need or want the subsidy.

“If we didn’t succeed, we’d have to write off $ 2 billion in vaccine development costs,” said Dr. Bourla at the New York Times’ DealBook Online Summit this week. “It’s painful for any company, but it wouldn’t break us.”

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