Exactly one year ago, in How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take?, The New York Times provided detailed projections of how long it would take to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine. The chart that appears above was what the article said would happen if the process followed the usual path. Even after reviewing various ways the process could be shortened, however, the article concluded that it would be virtually impossible for the Trump administration to make good on its claim that a vaccine would be available within 12-18 months:
The grim truth behind this rosy forecast is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon. Clinical trials almost never succeed. We’ve never released a coronavirus vaccine for humans before. Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years.
Trump and his team, however, were undeterred. At a Rose Garden ceremony two weeks later:
The Trump administration … rolled out a hyper-ambitious plan to develop and manufacture hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2020, outlining an aggressive process that, if successful, would shatter conventional wisdom about the typical process for developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases. …
The president and his deputies acknowledged their goal, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” was lofty. … But they allowed themselves little ambiguity. Mark Esper, the defense secretary, pledged to deliver a vaccine “at scale” to the U.S. and its foreign partners by the end of the year.
And the Trump team delivered. By mid-December both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines were being distributed and administered across the country. Other vaccines soon followed. Ultimately, Operation Warpspeed will probably end up saving hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of lives worldwide.
So here’s a prediction of my own. A century from now, long after Donald Trump’s abrasive tweets and preposterous combover have been forgotten, Operation Warpspeed will be celebrated as one of the greatest public health achievements of all time.