New US "Vaccine Czar" Says January Is A "Credible Goal" For Trump's 300 Million-Dose Target

Update (1330ET): As expected, Friday's press conference introduced four-star general Gustave Perna, and former Pharma exec Moncef Slaoui who have joined "Operation Warp Speed" to help lead to government-backed effort to develop a vaccine.

Specifically, Slaoui, will serve as the new "vaccine czar" - a term the White House has asked journalists not to use.

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Slaoui, chairman of vaccines at GSK, who will lead the new program, says a vaccine by January is still a possibility.

"Frankly, 12-18 months is already a very aggressive timeline,” Mr. Slaoui said. “I don’t think Dr. Fauci was wrong.”
But Mr. Slaoui said he was undaunted by the president’s goal.

"I would not have committed unless I thought it was achievable,” Mr. Slaoui said, adding that he told the president that when he met with him for the first time on Wednesday at the White House and Mr. Trump asked if the goal was realistic.

The NYTimes reminds us that - as Trump announced last month - Operation Warp Speed aims to produce 300 million doses of a vaccine by January, a goal that's been almost universally panned as unrealistic.

Unsurprisingly, it seems the man who got the vaccine czar job was the one who most willingly told the president what he wanted to hear - that the january goal is "doable".

The president announced the effort, which he called Operation Warp Speed, with the goal of having 300 million doses of a vaccine available by January, a number that would likely be needed to halt the spread of the pathogen, an unheard-of timeline to develop, test and produce a vaccine on such a scale.

The Warp Speed project has been described by administration officials as an organizing mechanism for an already fierce race to find a vaccine, one that involves big pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and a handful of government agencies.

Slaoui will serve as the chief adviser on the effort, and Gen Perna will be the COO.

The two men reportedly met for the first time on Wednesday, and they have been in frequent contact since then, the general said in a separate interview. They will have offices in the Department of Health and Human Services, where the secretary, Alex M. Azar II, helped devise the program at Mr. Trump’s request.

Slaoui said he discussed the job with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who had been searching for a so-called czar for therapeutics and vaccine development, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.

General Perna, who runs the Army’s complex supply chain, said that he was asked by Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to help run the manufacturing logistics related to the vaccine development.

The two men just met, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner was heavily involved in bringing Slaoui on, while JCS Chairman Mark Milley recommended Perna.

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On a day where tensions between the US and China have dominated the business news cycle, President Trump is holding a press conference Friday at noon to deliver an update on vaccine development.

According to media reports, Trump on Friday will officially introduce a former pharmaceutical executive and a four star-general who will lead his crash-coronavirus vaccine effort, which has been dubbed "Operation Warp Speeds".

The new "Vaccine Czar" is General is Gustave Perna, director of the Army Materiel Command, who will serve as chief operating officer of the reassuringly-named OWS (you can tell Trump came up with the name himself). Administration officials have billed the effort as a "Manhattan Project"-style push (and not the only one, to boot) intended to quicken development of a vaccine. Former GSK exec Moncef Slaoui is expected to be named as a senior adviser to the project.

“I think we’re going to have a vaccine by the end of the year, and I think distribution will take place almost simultaneously because we’ve geared up the military,” Trump told reporters Thursday.

Trump will make Perna and Slaoui’s appointments official in remarks from the White House Rose Garden.

Since the White House Task Force is no longer holding daily briefings, we imagine Trump's presser will be closely watched by politicos and the market.