Q: Has Operation Warp Speed accelerated the development of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and treatments?
A: Yes. The nation’s top infectious disease doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently said it has been “beyond historic.” As the novel coronavirus continues to wrap around the world, the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed has produced promising developments to combat COVID-19, the highly infectious disease that created a public health emergency and economic fall-out throughout 2020. In March, Congress approved $10 billion for the unprecedented public-private partnership, as well as $9.5 billion for additional resources for the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority that oversees public health emergencies. Marshalling the resources of the federal government across multiple agencies, Operation Warp Speed is an all-hands-on-deck partnership that has been working around-the-clock to save lives and win the war on the deadly disease. The nation’s leading innovators, scientists and public health experts have zeroed in on the same goal: to produce and deliver a safe, effective vaccine in the fastest time possible. Operation Warp Speed also has seen the federal government partner with scores of companies to develop innovative medical products beyond vaccines to combat the pandemic, including therapeutics, treatments and diagnostics.
In November, two pharmaceutical companies announced they will seek regulatory clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for coronavirus vaccines that have shown to be more than 94 percent effective in clinical trials, including protection for seniors most at risk for serious complications. Both vaccines have deployed new technology, using genetic code from the virus, to train the human body to recognize and fight the virus. As testimony to its international reputation in the field of science and medicine, the University of Iowa led by Dr. Patricia Winokur, M.D., executive dean, UI Carver College of Medicine, is one of the clinical trial sites for the Pfizer vaccine. The Iowa volunteers and health care professionals who participated since this summer in the clinical trial have made historic contributions to science and society. The companies say they expect to produce up to 50 million doses in 2020 and ramp up to 1.3 billion doses next year. What’s more, vaccines or therapeutic cures purchased by tax dollars will be provided free to Americans. Pfizer’s application for emergency authorization from the FDA on Nov. 20 has set unprecedented, scientific speed records. This welcome news shows light at the end of the tunnel. However, surging rates of infection are reminding all Americans not to let down our guard.
Q: What’s your message for Iowans as we head into the holiday season?
A: When the new year started on Jan. 1, 2020, the future looked brighter than ever. The U.S. economy was roaring at full-speed, breaking historic employment records across the country, particularly for black and Hispanic Americans. By mid-March, the pandemic put the brakes on the economy and changed the course of history. Every facet of society and segment of the economy was impacted; unthinkable changes to daily life became a reality. Schools, churches and businesses closed to mitigate the spread of the highly contagious virus. People lost their jobs by the tens of millions. Americans experienced disruptions to the food supply and shortages of consumer goods. Front line workers, first responders and health care professionals put their lives on the line to keep feeding and protecting Americans and providing care to patients. Since March, Congress has approved more than $3 trillion to send a financial lifeline to U.S. households, unemployed workers, small businesses and hospitals to help stay afloat. Work on additional COVID-relief spending is stalled, but urgency is building to address the most pressing needs for Americans across the country. I don’t understand why we can’t agree to agree on the many noncontroversial issues, like relief for families, schools, and small businesses, and more funding for testing and tracing and keep negotiating on the rest. More than 250,000 lives have been lost to the virus here in the United States. As public health experts predicted, another surge is making its way across the country. Infection rates are rising as falling temperatures cause more Americans to stay indoors.
Since March, I’ve followed public health guidelines to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, wash my hands regularly, and to social distance as much as possible. I’ve regularly encouraged Iowans to take responsibility, use good judgment and follow public health guidelines to stay safe. No community, family or holiday is immune to this virus. On Nov. 17, I tested positive for COVID-19. I’m following my doctors’ orders and CDC guidelines to help keep others safe. Despite testing positive, I’m feeling okay, and I look forward to continuing my normal schedule after quarantine. In March, I wrote that it’s a test of our civic duty to get on board to help save lives. At that time, I foretold the pandemic will get worse, before it gets better. As the holiday season gets underway, it’s important for all Iowans to take responsibility and follow public health guidelines. Governor Kim Reynolds recently updated the public health declaration to address the recent surge heading into the holidays. Although families may need to celebrate the holidays a bit differently this year, I encourage all Iowans to take precautions to help save lives. Each of us can make a difference, so that we’re able to celebrate the holidays with our loved ones for years to come.