The whole world is waiting for a vaccine for Covid-19. Normally the development of a vaccine for a new virus takes years and billions of dollars of research. But fortunately, the Trump administration’s planning ahead of the pandemic is producing the fastest development of a new vaccine the world has ever seen.
The Democratic narrative claims the Trump administration was caught unprepared for a pandemic. During the recent Democratic virtual convention, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had the audacity to claim “Our current federal government is dysfunctional and incompetent. It couldn’t fight off the virus. In fact, it didn’t even see it coming.” This is rich coming from the governor with the worst state record for corona virus treatment and the highest number of deaths, especially in nursing homes.
The truth is just the opposite. Joel M. Zinberg, clinical professor of surgery at Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, and Tomas J. Philipson, professor of public policy at the University of Chicago, tell a different story. In a Wall Street Journal Op-ed, they say preparation for a possible pandemic began long before the novel coronavirus emerged. In September, 2019, they developed a White House report called “Managing the Impact of Pandemic Influenza Through Vaccine Innovation.”
This report prompted immediate presidential action that accelerated the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. The report was produced by the Council of Economic Advisers at the behest of the National Security Council’s biodefense team. It detailed the large health and economic losses that could happen from flu pandemic in the U.S. The report discussed how the lack of private market incentives had led to underinvestment in developing and using innovative technologies that can quickly produce vaccines for a new virus.
Typical influenza vaccines have been manufactured in chicken eggs for the past 70 years. Recognizing the process is too slow to produce a new vaccine for a novel virus, a faster way was needed. Public-private partnerships created under a 2006 statute led to the development of newer, faster manufacturing techniques. But these vaccines are more expensive and haven’t been widely adopted.
The report recognized the need for rewarding innovation. To overcome the problem of under-investment in rapidly produced vaccines, it proposed public investment in public-private research and development partnerships to promote vaccine innovation and preferential government purchase of vaccines produced domestically from those partnerships.
On September 19, President Trump signed Executive Order 13887, which created several initiatives to modernize flu-vaccine production, including evaluation of “incentives for the development and production of vaccines by private manufacturers and public-private partnerships. When the novel coronavirus appeared a few months later, they were ready.
On March 30, less than three weeks after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, the federal government began investing with private vaccine developers. The Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed, which provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and a partnership between Astra-Zeneca and the University of Oxford, England, to develop vaccines and provide 100 million doses by January, 2021 of each one approved, which the government will distribute free of charge. Similar arrangements were made later with Novarex, Pfizer and BioNTech, and Sanofi/SmithKline.
The results of this public-private partnership are amazing. Instead of years and billions to develop a new vaccine, we are witnessing months and millions to accomplish the same goal. Multiple advanced clinical trials are already in progress and two companies, Moderna and AstraZeneca have already begun Phase 3 trials. (Covid Vaccine Progress Encouraging).
Zinberg and Philipson also say the government is funding drugs to treat Covid-19, including $618 million to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to develop an antibody drug and supply 70,000 to 300,000 doses. Late-stage studies of Regeneron’s drug to treat infected patients and protect uninfected people are under way, and it could be available by late summer.
In this time of hyper-partisan politics, Democrats are accusing the Trump administration of being caught unprepared for a pandemic. Fortunately, that narrative is false. Without the preparation of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) before this pandemic, we would not be looking at a new vaccine for years to come. The importance of this preparation cannot be overestimated.
The authors summarize: “The cost of Covid-19 from reduced economic activity and lives lost is estimated at $15 billion per day. Even though the pandemic came quicker than anyone imagined, the country and the administration were prepared to apply the CEA report’s lessons. New vaccines are being developed at previously unimaginable speed.”