US Scientists Worry ‘Operation Warp Speed’ Is Missing True Vaccines

Saad Omer, a Yale University infectious disease expert, said Operation Warp Speed needs to widen its portfolio to include the older technologies.

Aiming to find a vaccine that could combat the coronavirus pandemic, some scientists worry that US President Donald Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” is missing out on tried and true vaccine technologies.

The Trump administration is not funding vaccine approaches that have been used for more than 50 years, including for current vaccines against hepatitis, flu, polio, and rabies.

Instead, the United States is investing up to more than $2 billion in newer approaches that are promising, but for the most part, have not resulted in approved vaccines, much less vaccines with long track records.

Saad Omer, a Yale University infectious disease expert, said Operation Warp Speed needs to widen its portfolio to include the older technologies.

“New technologies are good, and they could perform well, but we should really be hedging our bets,” said Omer, who has helped develop several vaccines.

Dr. Paul Offit, a University of Pennsylvania professor who developed a vaccine against rotavirus, agrees.

“Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s better,” he said.

China and US taking drastically different approaches

China has taken a very different approach than the US, with four of its five vaccines in clinical trials using the older approach.

But the director of the US National Institutes of Health says there’s a “need for speed,” and the older approach takes “considerably longer” to develop.

“We have no time to waste,” Dr. Francis Collins told CNN.

Collins said he also has safety concerns about the older approach favored by the Chinese. That approach takes the entire virus to illicit an immune response from the body, but the virus is first inactivated so it won’t cause harm.

“If you weren’t completely successful in inactivating the virus, you’d have the fear that the vaccine itself could be dangerous,” he said. “There’s always much more concern about safety.”

The newer vaccines use only part of the virus, or even just its genetic material. Collins said these types of vaccines “carry no risk of conveying the actual disease.”

Dr. Philip Russell, a retired major general and former commander of the US Army Medical Research and Development Command who helped develop several vaccines, also noted safety concerns with an inactivated virus vaccine.

“I think they’re doing the right thing,” Russell said of the US approach.

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