Who is Dr Moncef Slaoui? Here's why Operation Warp Speed advisor wants to cut Covid-19 vaccines doses in half
A top US government official has said that they are looking at the option of giving some people half the dose of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine so that they can vaccinate more Americans and speed up the process. The reason: the US had hoped to have at least 20 million people vaccinated by the end of 2020.
However, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 4,225,756 Americans have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of January 2, 2021, which is far short of the target. Dr Moncef Slaoui, the chief advisor to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), said that they are currently in discussions with Moderna and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the idea.
Moderna’s vaccine requires two shots. Speaking with CBS, Dr Slaoui claimed that being injected with just half the dose of the Moderna vaccine “induces an identical immune response” for people between the ages of 18 and 55. All people in that age category would still be injected twice, but each dose would be halved, he proposed.
He shared, “We know that for the Moderna vaccine, giving half of the dose to people between the ages of 18 and 55, two doses, half the dose, which means exactly achieving the objective of immunizing double the number of people with the doses we have. We know it induces an identical immune response to the hundred microgram dose and therefore, we are in discussion with Moderna and with the FDA."
"Of course, ultimately it will be an FDA decision to accelerate injecting half the volume. I think that’s a more responsible approach that would be based on facts and data -- to immunize more people,” Dr Slaoui told CBS' ‘Face the Nation’
After Pfizer, Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine was the second Covid-19 vaccine that was authorized by the FDA for emergency use. So far, 13,071,925 doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been distributed by the OWS to over 10,000 locations across the US.
Where did he study?
Born in Morocco, the scientist grew up in Casablanca. “Both my father and mother had as their number 1 objective education, which comes with fairness, with values, with helping other people,” Dr Slaoui told USA Today.
A profile by the Carnegie Corporation of New York states: “Even though both of his parents had only high school educations, they were dedicated to creating educational opportunities for their five children. The death of his younger sister from whooping cough as a child motivated Dr Slaoui to study biology and medicine.”
According to USA Today, his sister died when she was six months old from whooping cough, which could have been prevented with a vaccine. “Slaoui hadn’t been born, but the loss meant he grew up in a home that understood the value of vaccines,” it stressed.
Dr Slaoui received a PhD in molecular biology and immunology from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium. He completed his postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston.
Speaking on immigrants’ contributions to American life, Slaoui has said: “Immigration is a source of talent, innovation, diversity, energy, and renewal to all societies, and has been a key element underpinning the successes that the US has enjoyed over the past decades — if not centuries.”
When was he appointed as OPS chief?
On May 15, 2020, Dr Slaoui was named chief advisor of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program, designed to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of coronavirus vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
“Dr Slaoui is a venture capitalist and, formerly, chairman of global research and development and chairman of global vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), where he led the development of five major novel vaccines,” the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) noted in a statement.
Where did he work before he joined OPS?
Dr Slaoui spent nearly 30 years at GlaxoSmithKline. “Vaccines is an attractive business,” he told investors in a presentation in 2015. During a recent interview with USA Today, he said, “Vaccines have always been my first love. That’s what I like the most.”
At GSK, he oversaw a few deals that one pharma industry veteran told Politico were “three of the worst deals in drug industry history,” because they did not generate many rewards for GlaxoSmithKline. The deals included its 2008 purchase of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, sale of its entire oncology business to Novartis, and the $3 billion acquisition of Human Genome Sciences in 2012. He retired from GSK in 2017.
“(At GSK) Slaoui oversaw the development of a number of vaccines, including vaccines to prevent cervical cancer, gastroenteritis, shingles, pneumococcal disease, and Ebola. Slaoui spent 27 years researching a vaccine for malaria. Two years later (after he retired from GSK), the first doses of the malaria vaccine Slaoui and his team at GSK had developed were administered to children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in a World Health Organization–coordinated pilot program,” says the Carnegie Corporation blog.
Dr Slaoui has been a venture capitalist since leaving GlaxoSmithKline. He joined Moderna’s board of directors in 2017. Patient advocates had earlier warned that Dr Slaoui had “blatant conflicts of interest” because he was on the board of multiple vaccine developers, including Moderna. However, in May 2020, Dr Slaoui resigned from Moderna’s board of directors upon the appointment of his new role to oversee Operation Warp Speed.
“I would like to thank Moncef for his critical insights and three years of service on the Moderna Board. Moncef’s extensive vaccine and therapeutic development guidance were important as we continue to advance Moderna’s mRNA platform,” Dr Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, had said in a May 15 statement.
Dr Slaoui also told NPR: “I accepted this role out of a commitment to public health and to help our nation and the world control this deadly pandemic. Throughout my career, I have always held myself to the highest ethical standards, and that has not changed upon my assumption of this role. HHS career ethics officers have determined my contractor status, divestitures and resignations have put me in compliance with the department's robust ethical standards.”