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Politics, science and remarkable race for a coronavirus vaccine

The President was particularly excited about this goal. At a White House meeting on March 2, as Mr. Bancel and other pharmaceutical executives presented their vaccination plans, Dr. Fauci warned that it would take “a year to a year and a half” before that the doses can reach the general public.

Mr Trump replied, “I like the sound of a few months better.”

Warp Speed ​​had two leaders. Dr Slaoui was in charge of science, who had led research and development at drug maker GlaxoSmithKline for years and served on Moderna’s board. In charge of logistics, General Gustave F. Perna, a four-star general who headed the army materiel command.

The operation, which took place in a suite on the seventh floor and an operations center on the second floor at Health and Human Services Headquarters, had a military flavor. Its leaders discussed the book “Freedom’s Forge,” an account of how American industry armed the military during World War II, and imposed what they called a “combat rhythm” of meetings. , including a daily 8 hour session on vaccines. Dozens of military officers reported working in uniform.

The most important decision, Dr Slaoui said, was which vaccine candidates to choose from the nearly 50 possible candidates. His team chose three types of vaccines, each to be used by two companies if one company fails. Federal officials called the finalists “horses,” a nod to the race between them.

Moderna and Pfizer would pursue mRNA vaccines, considered the fastest to develop. The government was prepared to pay a large chunk of the development bill, guide clinical trials, and even deliver supplies to factories.

Dr Bourla was not interested. As one of the world’s largest vaccine producers, Pfizer did not need federal help to develop a new product, he decided, and with nearly $ 52 billion in annual revenue, he neither needed nor wanted the grant.

“If we fail, we will have to write off $ 2 billion” in vaccine development costs, Dr Bourla said at the New York Times DealBook online summit this week. “It’s painful for any business, but it wasn’t going to break us.”

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