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Fact Check: Did Trump's Operation Warp Speed help Joe Biden roll out Covid-19 vaccines faster? Here's the truth

Traditional vaccines can take up to 10 years to develop, while Operation Warp Speed shortened that to just 10 months on average
UPDATED MAR 12, 2021
Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed was found to be responsible for early development of Covid-19 vaccine, so why did Joe Biden acknowledge it? (Getty Images)
Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed was found to be responsible for early development of Covid-19 vaccine, so why did Joe Biden acknowledge it? (Getty Images)

On March 11, Donald Trump put out a statement on Twitter saying, "If I wasn’t president, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best." At the time, he was mocked and ridiculed for the statement, which many called a sad effort to remain relevant. However, we know now that the statement has a lot of truth to it. A February report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed (OWS) did indeed play a vital role in helping vaccinate millions of Americans. 

The report establishes the key role OWS played in helping Biden hit his goal of "100 million shots in my first 100 days". On March 11, Biden announced that all American adults would be eligible for the vaccine by May 1. That quick rollout would not be possible without OWS and the Trump administration, proving that the former president — contrary to popular opinion — may have actually helped combat the pandemic.

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Operation Warp Speed was a public-private partnership announced by the Trump administration in May 2020. It helped speed up the research and development of Covid-19 vaccines, leveraging support from the Departments of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Defence.

A Statement from the Office of the 45th President:

— Joe Khalil (@JoeKhalilTV) March 11, 2021


Former president Donald Trump greets the crowd before he leaves at the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit on December 8, 2020, in Washington, DC  (Getty images)

Warp Speed helped accelerate development

Under Operation Warp Speed, six vaccine candidates were developed — AstraZeneca, Janssen, Moderna, Novovax, Pfizer and Sanofi. Barring Sanofi, all others are in phase 3 clinical trials while AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer have been approved for use. The role of OWS was critical to the development of these vaccines, the GAO report found. It states, "GAO found that OWS and vaccine companies adopted several strategies to accelerate vaccine development and mitigate risk." GAO provides Congress, the heads of executive agencies, and the public with timely, fact-based, non-partisan information that can be used to improve government and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

Traditional vaccines can take up to 10 years to develop, while OWS shortened that to just 10 months on average. The quick turnaround was predominately due to the sharing of information, technology and resources of government departments with pharmaceutical companies. Most importantly, it allowed companies to start "large-scale manufacturing during clinical trials and combining clinical trial phases or running them concurrently". 

U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive actions in the Oval Office of the White House on January 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden signed a series of executive actions Thursday afternoon aimed at expanding access to health care, including re-opening enrollment for health care offered through the federal marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act.

The 56-page report is perhaps the clearest vindication Trump can hope for. Without Operation Warp Speed, vaccines would still be stuck in various stages of development. The operation cost the government roughly $12.4 billion by mid-December, funded through the CARES Act. Under the Biden administration, the operation has been handed over to the White House Covid-19 Response Team. 

The current administration denounced Trump for his poor handling of the pandemic and the chaotic vaccine rollout strategy. Biden told reporters on March 2, "When I came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America." Biden also refused to acknowledge the role of the operation in his March 11 national address. While his government may downplay Trump's efforts, the GAO report clearly shows that the previous administration had a critical role to play. 

Dave Lacknauth, Director of Pharmacy Services, Broward Health Medical Center shows off a bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a press conference on December 23, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (Getty images)

'President Biden *should* be thanking President Trump'

Many conservatives took to social media to blast Biden for refusing to acknowledge Trump's role in the vaccine rollout. One user tweeted, "You should applaud President Trump for operation warp speed." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, "President Biden’s plan is to rely on the work that has already been done by Operation Warp Speed. That’s why only 9% of his “relief” bill went to defeating the virus. What America needs now is to fully reopen our economy and our classrooms."



Another person tweeted, "The GOP should launch an appreciation campaign for the vaccines. Included on the list of honorees: Scientists, Operation Warp Speed partners, & Pres. Trump. Not included: Joe Biden." Another tweet said "—> Operation Warp Speed launched on May 15, 2020. —> The first vaccines was approved by the FDA on December 11, 2020. —> The Biden Administration started on January 20, 2021. Stop trying to take credit for other people’s work, Mr. President." One user said, "President Biden *should* be thanking (former) President Trump for Operation Warp Speed."




Recently, Andy Slavitt — a senior adviser to the White House's Covid team — credited the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed for spurring the development of the vaccine. "We’re grateful for the work that came before us and are doing the best we can to continue it and accelerate it," Slavitt said on Fox News. "I would absolutely tip my hat. … The Trump administration made sure that we got in record time a vaccine up and out. That’s a great thing and it's something we should all be excited about."

Back in January, the Biden team retired the name "Operation Warp Speed". The incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that there was an "urgent need to address the failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution." She had also confirmed that many of the same civil servants will be involved, but the structure will be changed. The debate may go on... But in the fight between Trump vs Biden, at least the Covid-19 vaccine won.