In the race to save lives, the United States and England are winning. A stunning 47% of U.K. residents and 36% of U.S. residents have received at least one dose. Compare that with the European Union, where only 15% have gotten at least one jab. The U.S. and the U.K. are way ahead thanks to the brash nationalism of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former President Donald Trump.
The U.S. is now vaccinating as many as 4 million people a day, and President Joe Biden has announced vaccines are plentiful enough that all adults will be eligible by May 1. A remarkable achievement. Biden gets some credit for distributing the shots, but Trump is responsible for producing vaccines in record time and guaranteeing that America had first dibs on the supply. The current president claims he inherited a mess. In fact, he inherited a miracle — Trump’s Operation Warp Speed.
In the spring of 2020, Trump put America at the front of the line for whatever vaccines would ultimately be produced. He had the foresight to contract with not one or two but six different vaccine companies for a total of 800 million doses. Not all six companies’ vaccines would actually be approved and put into use. He bet on all six because failure was not an option.
Operation Warp Speed paid to manufacture the vaccines before clinical trials proved they were safe and worked. Companies couldn’t take that risk. It was a bold strategy and it worked.
Trump insisted he’d have vaccines ready by the end of 2020, a goal naysayers like Anthony Fauci said was impossible. Prior to this, the fastest-ever vaccine development — for mumps in the 1960s — took four years.
Johnson, like Trump, showed the capitalist pluck to partner with the drug companies early and lock in the U.K.’s future vaccine supply. Meanwhile, the European Union — a collection of 27 countries — dithered over what to buy and at what price. By the time the EU contracted with vaccine developers, 105 days after Johnson signed his deals, it was slim pickings. That’s largely why the European nations lack supply now.
Looking back, French President Emmanuel Macron admits: “We didn’t shoot for the stars. That should be a lesson. We were wrong to lack ambition, to lack the madness … to say: ‘It’s possible, let’s do it.’”
Now, EU countries are so desperate for supply that Hungary’s bought 5 million doses from the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm for a whopping $36 a dose — probably the highest price in the world — though Sinopharm refuses to release clinical data showing the vaccine works. In fact, the shots may not work.
The U.K. has plenty of supply, and Johnson regards that as a vindication of Brexit and proof of the “innovative genius and commercial might of the private sector.” Spoken like his buddy, Trump.
As for America’s success, credit Trump. On March 2, Biden tried to rewrite history. He claimed: “When I came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that.”
Sorry, even the left-leaning Kaiser Health News rates that “mostly false.” Without the contracts giving the U.S. first dibs on supply, America would have been left high and dry like the Europeans. Worse, the vaccines might never have been produced. Trump’s intervention made warp speed vaccine development less risky for the companies doing it.
That’s key because this is not the last pandemic. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is a model to follow next time.
In 2019, before COVID-19 struck, Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers warned that a flu pandemic could cost 500,000 American lives. The CEA said emerging technologies could make it possible to develop a vaccine against an invading disease in a matter of months, instead of years, provided government could reduce the financial risks.
The advice was prescient, and Trump took it. The rest is history.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and author of “The Next Pandemic.”