Born as a second Manhattan Project, the Trump administration vaccine program actually achieved most of its goals – until distribution problems marred its success.
As the nation’s Covid-19 response was careening off the rails in March and April 2020, about a dozen top health and defense department officials huddled in antiseptic meeting rooms to devise what they believed would be the Trump administration’s greatest triumph — a vaccine program so fast, so special, so successful that grateful Americans would forgive earlier failures and business schools would teach classes about it for decades.
They dubbed their project “MP2,” for a second Manhattan Project, after the race to create the nuclear weapons that ended World War II. Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary who was often at odds with the White House and his own department, sounded like an Army general rallying his troops: “If we can develop an atomic bomb in 2.5 years and put a man on the moon in seven years, we can do this this year, in 2020,” Azar would declare, according to his deputy chief of staff, Paul Mango, who helped lead the strategy sessions.
“It was just a spirit of optimism,” Mango added.
Now, in the final daysof the Trump administration, their “MP2” — later redubbed “Operation Warp Speed” — occupies a peculiar place in the annals of the administration’s ill-fatedresponse to Covid-19: In many ways, it was successful, living up to the highest expectations of its architects. The Trump administration did help deliver a pair of working vaccines in 2020, with more shots on the way. But the officials who expected to be taking a victory lap on distributing tens of millions of vaccine doses are instead being pressed to explain why the initiative appears to be limping to the finish.