WASHINGTON (AP) – From the outset, President Donald Trump has misinterpreted or exaggerated the role of the military in his administration’s collapse program to accelerate the development, production and possible distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
The military theme stemmed from the May 15 announcement of the creation of Operation Warp Speed. Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump likened the Manhattan Project, the military’s successful World War II program, to an effort to design and secretly build the world’s first atomic bombs.
“This means the full strength and power of the military,” Trump said, referring to the partnership as a project that would combine the full resources of the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services. He added: “We have the most powerful military in the long history of mankind.”
The military did make a huge contribution to the project. He provided a number of assistance in the form of planning, program management, logistics expertise and other efforts. Accelerated work on COVID-19 vaccines has also benefited from the Pentagon’s Agency for Defense Development Research Projects ’previous scientific and technological investments in infectious diseases.
Army General Gustave Perna was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Army Materials Command as Chief Operating Officer of Operation Warp Speed, and he, too, initially gave military spin.
“This mission is about defeating the enemy,” Perna said in a rose garden announcement to Trump. – We will convince the enemy.
But Trump, not Perna, deceived the role of the military. Trump said in his first announcement that the military will “deploy all necessary aircraft, trucks and soldiers” to be ready to distribute a vaccine.
Within months, he had stated even more explicitly – and still incorrectly – that the military was delivering.
“Our military is doing the distribution – it’s called logistics,” he said in a video posted on Twitter on Oct. 7.
Two weeks later, in a debate with Democrat Joe Bidendel, the newly elected president, Trump said, “We have Operation Warp Speed, which the military distributes the vaccine.”
In fact, the military will not distribute vaccinations, although state governors have the right to use members of their national guards for a number of tasks in support of public safety, including assisting with vaccination logistics if deemed necessary.
“There will be no such idea that some will see army trucks on the street carrying vaccines,” Perna said on Oct. 27.
Dissemination efforts are not the responsibility of the military, but of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, based on plans developed by individual states and other jurisdictions. The distribution is carried out by private companies, including McKesson Corp., a healthcare company with extensive experience in distributing influenza vaccines. McKesson also distributes the tools needed to administer the recordings.
The military does not produce, store or administer vaccines either. The Pentagon has been claiming for months that it will only be involved in distributing vaccines if commercial distributors are unable to reach remote areas of the country.
“The federal military is not involved in moving any doses or giving vaccinations,” Paul Mango, deputy chief of policy for Health and Human Services, said on Oct. 24.
The Pentagon has strongly challenged proposals to transport vaccines, saying any case would be an exception instead, such as a case where standard commercial transport services cannot reach the point of delivery. No such exceptions have been identified so far, the Pentagon said last week.
In addition to Perna, the senior command of Operation Warp Speed includes a retired Army Colonel, Matthew Hepburn, who serves as a senior officer in vaccine development. He was a physician, biomedical engineer, and former director of medical training for White House national security personnel.
The importance of military officials in Operation Warp Speed took control at Capitol Hill, where some questioned whether an oversized military leadership role marginalized public health agencies. In October, Massachusetts Democratic Sensor Elizabeth Warren and Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono requested a public Senate hearing on their involvement in the military-military effort, but no such hearing was held.
EDITOR ‘S NOTE – The veracity of the statements of political actors.
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