Biden team is retiring ‘Warp Speed’ name from vaccination push

Josh Wingrove

President-elect Joe Bidens overhaul of the U.S. coronavirus vaccination program will include largely abandoning President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” moniker, according to people familiar with the matter.

Biden will detail his plan later Friday, after unveiling his push for a new pandemic relief package from Congress and appointing a series of new medical advisers. None of the announcements, however, used the Warp Speed brand that Trump’s administration created.

Biden’s team wants to emphasize the scientific rigor of the vaccine development program and its new focus on hastening vaccinations, the people said, asking not to be identified because there hasn’t been an official announcement.

The new leaders of the vaccination program may use “Warp Speed” to refer to the Trump administration’s push to develop vaccines, but Biden’s priority going forward – getting shots into arms – is simply called “Covid Response.” One official said it’s less about abandoning Trump’s brand name and more that the “Warp Speed” effort – getting a vaccine approved – is considered complete.

Trump’s administration has used “Warp Speed” to describe both development and distribution of vaccines, but the latter effort has fallen far short of goals the government set earlier this year.

President-elect Joe Biden waves as he arrives at The Queen theater, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Wilmington, Del.

Biden officials want to build further confidence in the vaccines, which were developed at record pace under a president who otherwise paid little heed to science. Biden’s health team has said previously that the expedited effort has fueled doubts about the vaccine, and officials have regularly sought to assure the U.S. public that dangerous shortcuts were not taken.

“One last myth that I want to dispel is a concern that I’ve heard from some people that this vaccine was developed too fast, right? So, even the name of the entity in government that was charged with trying to figure out how to get a vaccine quickly was called Operation Warp Speed, right?” Vivek Murthy, who Biden has tapped to be surgeon general, said in a call with U.S. faith leaders this week.

He assured them the vaccines are safe and effective and asked for help communicating that message.

“For some people, they heard and they said, Why is this happening so fast? Are there corners being cut? Are there safety precautions that are not being taken?’” he said.

The vaccine push will now be led by David Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who will serve as chief science officer of Biden’s “Covid Response.” He will replace Moncef Slaoui, one of the officials who led what the Trump administration had called “Operation Warp Speed.” Another, General Gustave Perna, will remain as chief operating officer.

“Warp Speed” will be folded in to Kessler’s portfolio, which will be broader than vaccine development, one official said.

Kessler’s top priorities as chief science officer are ensuring every American who wants to be vaccinated gets a shot, building out a significant antiviral program and building major, sustainable manufacturing capability, in part so that a vaccine for another pathogen can be produced quickly if the U.S. ever needs it again, one official familiar with the matter said.