Health and Science

Operation Warp Speed chief resigns at Biden team's request, will stay through transition, sources say

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Key Points
  • Moncef Slaoui led scientific development for Operation Warp Speed.
  • He submitted his resignation at the request of the incoming Biden team, sources said.
  • He'll stay for 30 days to help with the transition.
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Operation Warp Speed chief to resign, Trump administration releases vaccines on hold

Operation Warp Speed chief advisor Dr. Moncef Slaoui has submitted his resignation at the request of the incoming Biden team under a plan that would see him stay in the role for a month to help with the transition, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Slaoui's role leading vaccine development for the unprecedented government effort is expected to be diminished after next Wednesday's inauguration, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan wasn't announced. It would end by Feb. 12.

It's not clear who will take scientific lead for the Biden team focused on Covid vaccines or if someone will be appointed to that role. Two vaccines are already authorized in the U.S. and three more are in late-stage clinical trials. Jeff Zients is Biden's coordinator of the Covid-19 response, while Bechara Choucair will be Covid vaccine coordinator, focused on speeding inoculations.

Slaoui's contract includes 30 days' notice before termination, and the Biden team has not asked Slaoui to stay on past that, one of the people said.

Former GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical executive Moncef Slaoui, who will serve as chief adviser on the effort to find a vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a coronavirus disease response event in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Slaoui had said he planned to step down after two vaccines and two therapies for Covid reached the market, which happened last month with the clearance of Moderna's vaccine. Last week, he said he "decided to extend that in order to ensure that the operation continues to perform the way it has performed through the transition of administration." He noted though that "we're getting close to the point where my value add is more limited."

Though the initial vaccine rollout has been criticized, the speed of their development, which Slaoui oversaw, exceeded expectations: Two vaccines have been authorized in the U.S. with 95% efficacy in preventing disease, from Pfizer and Moderna. Pivotal results from Johnson & Johnson on its vaccine, the first offering the potential for just one dose, are expected within weeks. It was the fastest vaccine development in history.

Slaoui was criticized when he took the job for his ties to the pharmaceutical industry; he resigned from the board of Moderna around the time his role was announced. He sold his shares in the company and said he donated their increase in value during the few days he held them while at the Operation Warp Speed helm.

He declined, though, to sell his shares in GlaxoSmithKline, where he spent 30 years and oversaw vaccine development, calling the stock his retirement.

He was criticized in particular by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and responded to her in September in a video message, saying he's a registered Democrat, but "didn't hesitate" to take the role "because this pandemic is bigger than any one of us."

Slaoui was paid $1,000 for his work overseeing Operation Warp Speed, which he said he planned to donate to scientific research.