Moroccan-American doctor to head COVID-19 vaccine program

Donald Trump has named renowned Moroccan-born American immunologist Moncef Slaoui to head a new COVID-19 vaccine program called Operation Warp Speed. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 May 2020

Moroccan-American doctor to head COVID-19 vaccine program

  • Moncef Slaoui to will head new COVID-19 vaccine program called Operation Warp Speed

CHICAGO: Donald Trump has named renowned Moroccan-born American immunologist Moncef Slaoui to head a new COVID-19 vaccine program called Operation Warp Speed, which the US president compared to the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in the 1940s.

Slaoui, a former professor of immunology at the University of Mons, Belgium, predicted that Operation Warp Speed will make available a few hundred million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.

Trump said Slaoui will serve as the operation’s chief scientist, assisted by a team that includes veteran army four-star Gen. Gus Perna as chief operating officer.

Trump described the operation as a “momentous medical initiative,” and a “massive scientific, industrial and logistical endeavor unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project.”

He added: “We’re proud to announce the addition of two of the most highly respected and skilled professionals in our country — worldwide respected. Operation Warp Speed’s chief scientist will be Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a world-renowned immunologist who helped create 14 new vaccines — that’s a lot of our new vaccines — in 10 years, during his time in the private sector.”

Trump described Slaoui as “one of the most respected men in the world in the production and, really, on the formulation of vaccines.”

Slaoui, who has published more than 100 scientific papers on the topic, and is a member of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s board of directors, joined Trump in announcing Operation Warp Speed.

“I’ve very recently seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine,” said Slaoui, who headed the global vaccines development program at GlaxoSmithKline from 2015 to 2017. “This data made me feel even more confident that we’ll be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020.”

Trump said Slaoui’s and Operation Warp Speed’s primary mission will be to finish developing, and then manufacture and distribute, a proven coronavirus vaccine “as fast as possible.”

Trump added: “You really could say that nobody has seen anything like we’re doing, whether it’s ventilators or testing. Nobody has seen anything like we’re doing now, within our country, since the Second World War. Incredible.”

He said: “We’d love to see if we could do it prior to the end of the year. We think we’re going to have some very good results coming out very quickly. In addition, it will continue accelerating the development of diagnostics and breakthrough therapies.”

Slaoui called it “a great honor” to “serve our country and the world” in combating the pandemic.

“Operation Warp Speed’s objectives are very clear. The president has described them. And I believe they’re very credible. I also believe they’re extremely challenging,” he said.

“However, I’m really confident that … we’ll be able, and we’ll do the utmost, to deliver these objectives.”

Perna, who currently oversees 190,000 service members, civilians and contractors as commander of the US Army Materiel Command, will head the operation’s logistics. 

Trump said: “That means getting it out. We’ve got to get it out there.” The operation has brought together “all of the experts across the federal government,” he added. 

“This historic partnership will now bring together the full resources of the Department of Health and Human Services with the Department of Defense. And we know what that means. That means the full power and strength of the military.”

Similarly, during World War II the US-led Manhattan Project brought together the world’s leading industrial and scientific leaders to create the first atomic bombs, which were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, forcing Japan to surrender.

Schools reopen as Singapore eases lockdown restrictions

Updated 37 min 37 sec ago

Schools reopen as Singapore eases lockdown restrictions

  • School students were urged to maintain a safe distance as they lined up to return to class
  • Singapore has said it will ease restrictions gradually

SINGAPORE: With temperatures checked, masks fitted, and hand sanitizers at the ready, many Singapore children returned to school on Tuesday after a novel coronavirus lockdown of nearly two months.
Across the island, the hum of the morning rush hour resumed while staff at schools urged students to maintain a safe distance as they lined up to return to class.
With one of the highest coronavirus tallies in Asia, Singapore has said it will ease restrictions gradually, with the registry of marriages and some businesses, including pet salons, also reopening on Tuesday.
“You have to restart your normal life at some point,” said Harsha Yavagal, who was sending his boys aged five and 12 back to school.
“Schools are taking all possible measures to cope with the virus,” he said.
Studies in some European countries have shown reopening schools has not led to a rise in coronavirus infections, while other studies have shown fewer cases of the disease among children compared with adults.
But Singapore is not taking any chances.
At one secondary school, Reuters observed the precision of the “new normal” morning routine.
After a bell, students sang the national anthem through face masks that are required by law. The teacher then asked everyone in the class to put thermometers in their mouths and he went desk-to-desk noting temperatures.
The students then cleaned their thermometers with an alcohol wipe and, one-by-one, dropped the wipes in a bin.
Recesses will be staggered and children will have to sit apart at the canteen, the teacher said, then asked students to respond to an online poll via their smartphones about how they felt about returning to school.
The results appeared on a screen behind him: more than half said they were happy with a further third “very happy.”
Singapore has recorded more than 35,000 coronavirus cases and 24 deaths. Most cases have been among migrant workers living in dormitories.