Operation Warp Speed Has Over $6 Billion In Secret Covid-19 Vaccine Contracts Evading Scrutiny

Robert HartForbes StaffBusinessI cover breaking news.

Topline

Billions of dollars’ worth of coronavirus vaccine contracts have avoided usual mechanisms of transparency and regulatory oversight with Operation Warp Speed – the Trump administration’s project to develop a Covid-19 vaccine – which is funneling money through a nongovernmental intermediary, a move that is likely to reignite worries over the project’s opaque nature.

Lab researcher in facemask
Operation Warp Speed has billions in secret Covid-19 vaccine contracts Getty Images

Key Facts

Rather than entering into contracts with vaccine makers directly, NPR reports that more than $6 billion in Operation Warp Speed funding has been routed through an intermediary nongovernmental firm, thereby avoiding the usual requirements for regulatory oversight and transparency that accompany federal contracting as well as many public records request requirements.

NPR reports that funding is directed through the defense contract management firm Advance Technologies International, Inc., (ATI) who go on to award contracts to companies developing vaccines for Covid-19.

Some of the contracts for the most high-profile vaccine candidates have been awarded by ATI in this way, including $1 billion for Johnson & Johnson, $1.79 billion for Sanofi, $1.6 billion for Novavax, and $1.95 billion for Pfizer.

Since its inception, Operation Warp Speed has repeatedly come under fire over its opaque nature, including from Senate critics who accused officials of making major decisions behind closed doors; it is likely that the revelation in the way the project issues its contracts will reignite this debate.

Key Background

Operation Warp Speed is the Trump administration’s project to deliver a vaccine as fast as possible. The project has come under fire on numerous fronts, including from politicians slamming the organization’s opaque nature and Dr Anthony Fauci raising concerns that the project’s name could stoke public fears of a vaccine rushed through development for political purposes. 

Surprising Fact

The organizational makeup of Operation Warp Speed has remained, along with many other aspects of the organization, relatively opaque. Stat News recently shed light on this with an organizational chart showing a highly structured organization dominated by military personnel. 

Further Reading

How Operation Warp Speed’s big vaccine contracts could stay secret (NPR)

Operation Warp Speed’s opaque choices of COVID-19 vaccines draw Senate scrutiny (Science)

New document reveals scope and structure of Operation Warp Speed and underscores vast military involvement (Stat News)