Trump officials hold first ‘Operation Warp Speed’ briefing for BidenNovember 25, 2020
Trump administration health officials on Wednesday kicked off a series of planned meetings with the Biden transition team on “Operation Warp Speed,” the administration’s effort to rush Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, according to two people familiar with the hastily scheduled session.
The focus of the initial meeting was on Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and distribution, said one person familiar with the agenda, with a goal of bringing President-elect Joe Biden’s agency review team up to speed on Operation Warp Speed’s workings. A second person familiar with the meeting said it was scheduled about 24 hours after the General Services Administration’s announcement on Monday that the transition could proceed and that Wednesday’s meeting was intended to be the first of multiple briefings in coming weeks.
Operation Warp Speed has helped shepherd promising vaccine candidates and therapies to fight Covid-19, and the project’s top scientific adviser has vowed to start distributing vaccines next month, pending the Food and Drug Administration’s sign-off. But public health experts had grown increasingly alarmed about the prospect of a botched hand-off on the Covid-19 project, particularly after President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election prevented communications between the Department of Health and Human Services and the incoming Biden team for nearly three weeks.
Wednesday’s planned one-hour meeting was steered by Rear Adm. Erica Schwartz, the career health department official in charge of the transition, and included attendees like HHS chief of staff Brian Harrison, HHS deputy chief of staff Paul Mango, and Operation Warp Speed logistics expert Paul Ostrowski and experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to people familiar with the agenda.
The health department confirmed the meeting.
“HHS is committed to smooth, professional transition planning, and held an initial briefing facilitated by RADM Schwartz, HHS’s career transition director, with members of the Biden agency review team, project leads from Operation Warp Speed, and HHS Chief of Staff Brian Harrison,” a spokesperson told POLITICO.
Biden’s advisers and allies had spent days attacking the Trump administration for the failure to hold transition briefings.
“Biden has put together a world-class team of advisers about COVID and about the vaccine,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week. “With no transition, they are not getting access to government information, government personnel, in order to plan for the eventual rollout of a vaccine and it’s going to cost lives.”
HHS Secretary Alex Azar this week said that his team is “immediately” working to share materials.
The transition will be carried out “in the best spirit of looking out for the health and well-being of the American people, and in particular, saving lives through this Covid-19 pandemic,” Azar told reporters on Tuesday.