When President Trump unveiled Operation Warp Speed in May, he declared that it was “unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project.”
The initiative — to accelerate the development of Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics — lacks the scale, and the degree of secrecy, of the effort to build the atomic bomb. But Operation Warp Speed is largely an abstraction in Washington, with little known about who works there other than its top leaders, or how it operates. Even pharmaceutical companies hoping to offer help or partnerships have labored to figure out who to contact.
Now, an organizational chart of the $10 billion initiative, obtained by STAT, reveals the fullest picture yet of Operation Warp Speed: a highly structured organization in which military personnel vastly outnumber civilian scientists.
The labyrinthine chart, dated July 30, shows that roughly 60 military officials — including at least four generals — are involved in the leadership of Operation Warp Speed, many of whom have never worked in health care or vaccine development. Just 29 of the roughly 90 leaders on the chart aren’t employed by the Department of Defense; most of them work for the Department of Health and Human Services and its subagencies.
Operation Warp Speed’s central goal is to develop, produce, and distribute 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine by January — and the military is intimately involved, according to Paul Mango, HHS’ deputy chief of staff for policy. It has already helped prop up more than two dozen vaccine manufacturing facilities — flying in equipment and raw materials from all over the world. It has also set up significant cybersecurity and physical security operations to ensure an eventual vaccine is guarded very closely from “state actors who don’t want us to be successful in this,” he said, adding that many of the Warp Speed discussions take place in protected rooms used to discuss classified information.
“This is a massive scientific and logistical undertaking,” said Mango. “We are weeks away, at most, a month or two away from having at least one safe and effective vaccine.”
Despite the military’s dominance, the chart also includes Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases who was almost fired by Trump in February for warning the public about the growing Covid-19 pandemic. Public health and drug industry officials told STAT that Messonnier and Gen. Paul Ostrowski, her direct superior, serve as the initiative’s main contacts on all questions related to the distribution of an eventual vaccine. One public health official said that Ostrowksi, an expert on military acquisition, defers to Messonnier on matters of public health.