Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’: No way it happens, says infectious disease expert

As pharmaceutical companies rush to find a vaccine for coronavirus, President Trump announced a new plan, “Operation Warp Speed” to ensure that a vaccine would be created and distributed by the end of the year.

According to the plan, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and AstraZeneca are collaborating to make available at least 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine called AZD1222, with the first doses delivered as early as October 2020.”

But one infectious disease expert says that is unlikely to happen.

“I don't see any way that happens,” said Dr. Michael Saag, Associate Dean for Global Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Only if we are “really lucky,” he said, could we see data on the efficacy of a vaccine by the 1st of January, 2021. 

Even then, he told Yahoo Finance, a vaccine would have to be “scaled up” for as many as 600 million doses. 

“That doesn't happen by just wishing it so. We need to be logical here. We need to be thinking about the realities, and not just lured into some magical thinking,” he said.

The existence of 10 candidate vaccines so soon is “impressive,” Saag said. “Great start, but it's like the beginning of the Kentucky Derby, and we haven't even passed the mile one-mile marker. So we've got a long way to go.”

The need for a vaccine has grown, as all states have decided to reopen, sparking fears over a “second wave” of coronavirus cases.

Some areas see spikes

Over Memorial Day weekend, Americans were seen visiting beaches, restaurants and bars — many without face masks. 

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO - MAY 25: A man and woman sit with their masks on at Creve Coeur Lake Park on May 25, 2020 in Maryland Heights, Missouri. Many people flocked to certain area parks to relax and exercise amid COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

Health officials in Missouri have asked partygoers to self quarantine after footage of crowded bars and beaches were released from Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend. And across the country, states have started to see spikes in coronavirus cases as businesses reopen. 

“I’m kind of nervous, to be honest with you,” Saag told Yahoo Finance, about the way states are handling the reopening.

“The virus is still readily in our community. And a lot of people are susceptible. So what I see happening, and that's what worries me, people throwing caution to the wind, saying, we're over this. It's done.”

“It's not done,” he said.

In his home state of Alabama, he said, positive case numbers “have more than doubled.”

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the state has nearly 16,000 positive cases. By Tuesday, May 26, the daily case count had leapt to over 600, up from 344 just two weeks prior.

Projections of the death toll have continued to creep upward as people go back to work and start revisiting businesses again. But not all states have been as aggressive in their lockdown and reopening protocols as others. According to a Yahoo Finance analysis, the greatest increases of COVID-19 related deaths are projected in Republican-led states. 

There are over 1.6 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

“I think New York has done great,” Saag said. “And that's why the U.S. numbers are more flat than continuing to go up, because New York was dominating the numbers in April.”

But in the rest of the country, he said, people haven’t been as cautious. 

“I'm very worried,” he said. 

“We may see is a rise, a little bit of a plateau, and then a second rise,” he said. “That's what I think we're going to see in Alabama and a lot of other rural states — Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee. Those are the states that we're going to start seeing this second increase.” 

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

Read more:

Republican states to see biggest economic boosts from reopening amid coronavirus crisis

Over 4 million in US will contract coronavirus if states fully reopen: Wharton model

Greatest increases of COVID deaths projected in Republican states

Projected US coronavirus death toll rises to 138,000 as more states mull reopening

Reopening states will cause 233,000 more people to die from coronavirus, according to Wharton model

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