All through the pandemic, Donald Trump has returned again and again to claims that Operation Warp Speed was going to deliver the vaccine to Americans with “the full power and strength of military—the military.” That came in the same May speech where Trump introduced Moncef Slaoui as the chief scientist of Operation Warp Speed, with General Gus Perna as the chief operating officer. “That means logistics,” said Trump. “That means getting it out.”
But now that the time has come to deliver on that promise, Operation Warp Speed has been marked by poor estimates of available vaccine, miscommunication, uneven performance—and at least two very large failures. The insistence that, no matter what else had happened over the course of the year, the rollout of the vaccine was going to be a wonder of high speed precision has only added to mounting anger over the real event, which has been marked by confusion, delay, and a pair of decisions that could cost thousands of lives.
As the BBC reported back on Dec. 18, over a dozen states had protested the difference between what Operation Warp Speed promised in terms of number of doses and what was actually delivered. Perna admitted that he had personally given numbers to governors based on the amount of vaccine he expected to be available, only to have his “forecast sheets” miss the mark by 50% or more.
"I failed,” said Perna. “I'm adjusting. I'm fixing and we'll move forward from there."
But states are finding it hard to adjust to getting much less vaccine than expected at a time when the number of cases continues to soar. Despite decreased testing over the holiday period, the United States racked up another million cases of COVID-19 in just the last week. Reduced testing and reporting may be hiding the true scale of the growth in cases, and even failing to register COVID-19 deaths. However, the way that hospitals coast to coast are becoming overrun is not so easily missed.
As CNN reports, hospitalizations for COVID-19 are currently at a record, and that’s before the expected surge of new cases resulting from Christmas travels and get-togethers. On Monday, the U.S. reported 121,235 patients hospitalized for COVID-19. That’s the highest level to date.
Meanwhile, as Axios reports, President-elect Joe Biden plans to issue additional warnings today during a speech in Washington. In this speech, Biden will specifically call out Trump for the failures of Operation Warp Speed and “falling short on the pace of vaccine distribution.” Biden will discuss his own plan for getting more Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible to blunt a disaster that is literally growing larger by the hour. One big reason that Biden is speaking out: Trump isn’t. Since the election, Trump has been so sunk in his fantasies and attacks on democracy that he’s had little time for any other topic—except golf. There has been plenty of golf.
And while the news may be full of reassuring images of healthcare workers and some nursing home residents beginning to receive vaccinations, those images don’t bring with them any instant relief. In fact, they can bring their own peril. As 10 News San Diego reports, an ER nurse there tested positive for COVID-19 eight days after receiving the first dose of Pfizer vaccine. This doesn’t mean the vaccine failed to work. In Pfizer’s submission to the FDA, it took 12 to 14 days before volunteers obtained a level of immune response thought to offer protection against the virus. However, the largest number of positive cases for volunteers who received the vaccine actually happened in the week immediately following the shot as patients apparently felt that the vaccine provided instant protection. Just seeing the vaccine being delivered to front-line workers and some of the most vulnerable may be helping to generate bad behavior from people who think that the pandemic is “almost over.”