Operation Warp Speed Sputters 02-02-21
What's Causing The Warp Speed Slowdowns?
Operation "Warp Speed" produced two vaccines in record time as promised by the Trump Administration, but supply and logistical snafus have crippled the program at a critical juncture. Just as the disease is waning in many states, and Governors are poised to allow businesses to reopen, the problem of administering existing vaccines nationwide remains.
In a new Wall Street Journal essay, Arthur Herman explains how "Operation Warp Speed" worked so well for vaccine development and manufacturing, and why "distribution bottlenecks" of more than 50 million doses already produced are now the problem.
To start with, says Herman, the current administration's claims of failure are based on "a misunderstanding both of Operation Warp Speed’s mission and its nature as a government program." The model of WWII mobilization, which rests on three principles, was the key to success:
First, set a clear target and a firm deadline. Operation Warp Speed’s goal was 20 million vaccine doses by December 2020. Aiming at that target enabled the program’s leaders, Gen. Gustave Perna and Dr. Moncef Slaoui (who resigned last month at the Biden administration’s request but will stay on as a consultant), to focus everyone in Operation Warp Speed on achieving a single result.
Second, mobilize the best pharmaceutical and drug manufacturing companies to hit the target, so that private industry invests its energy and productivity in the plan. During World War II, the big automotive and electrical companies became the driving engine of the mobilization effort, though many had never before produced arms or weapons.
In Operation Warp Speed’s case, the vaccine effort went from a single manufacturing facility in the U.S. to a network of facilities where the country’s drug companies could pool efforts to develop and manufacture vaccines. What traditional health-care experts thought of as a laboratory process became an industrial process—with prodigious results. Companies like FedEx and UPS were pressed into service to deliver the finished product.
Third, maintain government oversight from start to finish. The Commerce, Defense, and Health and Human Services departments invoked the Defense Production Act 18 times to prioritize materials and supplies for Operation Warp Speed, and get government contracts for vaccine development and manufacturing to the head of the line. The use of federal authority to guide but not micromanage the private economy’s efforts was key to producing victory in World War II and to creating the Covid vaccine in record time.
Distribution within the states has become problematic, with the newly minted administration blaming Trump (for not doing what he actually did), and making claims (without evidence) that their plan could have been superior. Herman addresses the issue of the pesky issue of federalism:
In the U.S. federal system, however, state governments can’t be steamrolled by Washington. The Arsenal of Democracy was able to ship its goods to two all-powerful federal agencies, the War and Navy departments, which knew how to get those weapons to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who would use them. There’s no corresponding federal agency in this case.
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