‘Vaccines have nothing to do with politics’: Trump’s Operation Warp Speed adviser urges GOP to push for shots

Dr Moncef Slaoui tells CBS: ‘Many people probably have died or suffered because the whole situation became so political’

Alex Woodward
New York
Sunday 21 March 2021 17:44 GMT
Covid politicisation led to unnecessary deaths, says former Trump adviser

Former president Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed adviser has warned against politicising Covid-19 inoculation efforts, as several polls have shown Republicans are hesitant to receive coronavirus vaccines available under Joe Biden’s administration.

“I’m very concerned that for political motivation people decide to actually place themselves and the people around them in harm’s way by refusing to be vaccinated,” said Dr Moncef Slaoui, who led drug development efforts under the previous administration.

A poll from CBS News found that 34 per cent of Republicans say they will not be vaccinated against Covid-19, compared to only 10 per cent of Democrats. The poll follows the results of a poll from PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist earlier this month that revealed 49 per cent of Republican men do not plan to be vaccinated.

Dr Slaoui told CBS’s Face the Nation on 21 March that the politicisation of the Covid-19 response likely led to unnecessary deaths and infections.

“Many people probably have died or suffered because the whole situation became so political because emotions overtook rationality,” he said.

He urged the former president and the GOP to work “really hard to engage more Republicans” to get vaccinated.

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“I think we need to do every effort we can to explain to people that vaccines have nothing to do with politics,” he said. “These vaccines are safe, they are highly effective, they’re going to help them protect themselves and the people around them from the spread of this virus, and critically, the potential appearance of new variants.”

Under Mr Trump, the federal government financially supported eight pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccine candidates as part of Operation Warp Speed, including an advance purchase order for Pfizer’s drug.

Three vaccines – from drugmakers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – have been approved for use in the US.

Despite months of research and production, the previous administration came under fire for its lack of coordination among federal, state and local governments to receive and distribute vaccines, as the Trump administration fell significantly short of an initial goal of producing 100 million doses by the end of 2020. Fewer than 3 million doses were administered by the end of the year.

Mr Trump was privately vaccinated in January before he left the White House, but he did not publicly disclose getting the shot.

Mr Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as other former presidents and former Vice President Mike Pence, received their vaccine shots on camera in an effort to boost support for vaccine safety and efficacy.

Mr Trump did not appear with former presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in a public service announcement to promote vaccinations.

Instead, he told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February to “go get your shot”.

And on 16 March, he told Fox News: “I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. But again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that and I agree with that also. But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine and it is something that works.”

Asked whether he has felt stigmatised by serving under the previous administration, which actively downplayed a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans, Dr Slaoui said he felt “fortunate” he was able to help.

“That’s the only thing that counts,” he said. “There were moments, frankly, where I told myself, ‘Oh my God, why did I get myself into this?’ But they never lasted long, because the mission was way more important than those emotional moments.”

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