Often in the world of Star Trek, a captain would call for a “Full Stop” after going “Warp Speed.”
That seems to be what’s happening in America, as Operation Warp Speed has been an end-of-the-year disaster while vaccine distribution has been woefully lagging, a fact that has generated bipartisan concern. What’s worse is that it didn’t have to be this way for the USA.
Supporters of Trump were quick to give credit to “Operation Warp Speed.” Michael Goodwin in the NY Post wrote “This was a triumph of the first order made possible by the sheer force of his personality.” But Pfizer’s vaccine development wasn’t part of Operation Warp Speed.
“While other pharmaceutical companies did take federal funds to develop a vaccine, Pfizer declined to do so, the only one of the major prospective developers to go it alone,” according to Yahoo News. This was confirmed by the company’s vice-president in that same article.
Yes, Operation Warp Speed did purchase the Pfizer vaccine, but that was botched too. MSN notes “But this summer, the White House opted not to lock in an additional 100 million doses for delivery in the second quarter of 2021.” Whether they didn’t know it would take two doses, or whether they didn’t know that Americans might need those doses to be safe in the 2nd Quarter of 2021, and that we needed economic recovery too, it was clear incompetence.
But it’s unlikely, at the current pace of vaccine distribution, that we’ll even see the vaccine by the Spring of 2021, or even by the end of the decade at this rate. According to CNBC at the current rate of distribution, it will take 10 years for even an adequate number of Americans to get the vaccine. Our lives, our health, and our economy can’t wait a decade.
Some of this could have been avoided by Trump and the Senate Republicans, but stalling the COVID-19 aid to state and local governments, where the real distribution takes place, was yet another error. We really needed vaccine stimulation, not stimulus checks, to really get the economy going. With anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and those threatening rebellion, such disruptions could take longer. But instead, we got an avalanche of frivolous lawsuits, and threats to try and undermine the 2020 election on the floor of the House and Senate, at a time when cases and death rates are skyrocketing, and a new strain may have come to America’s shores.
Not all Republicans are tolerating this ineffectiveness. Utah Senator Mitt Romney tweeted “The vaccination program is falling woefully behind. With hundreds of thousands of lives at stake, urgent action is needed on a comprehensive vaccination plan that states can use as a model.”
President Joe Biden promised to accelerate the vaccine distribution. While he’s more likely to focus on the issue than Trump, he could fall into a lot of the same traps. Years ago, I met Russ Sobel and Pete Leeson at some free-market economics conferences, where I learned that their research broke down the failures of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina, a combination of exclusive government control, playing politics, and restrictions on the private sector. Indeed, one of the reasons Pfizer did not develop the vaccine with Operation Warp Speed dealt with this same issues.
According to Newsweek “Pfizer declined the R&D funding in order to ‘liberate’ scientists from bureaucratic limitations as they worked to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, the pharmaceutical company's CEO, Dr. Albert Bourla, said in a September interview with CBS.” President Biden needs to learn from former President Trump’s failures, and not assume his plan will work because he’s a different guy.