President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is phasing out the Trump administration program known as Operation Warp Speed and has asked Dr. David Kessler — a former head of the Food and Drug Administration — to oversee the effort to accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of coronavirus vaccines, Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Friday.
“OWS is the Trump team’s name for their program,” Ms. Psaki wrote on Twitter, using the program’s initials. “We are phasing in a new structure, which will have a different name than OWS. Many of the public servants will be essential to our response, but urgent need to address failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution.”
The announcement came as Operation Warp Speed faced new fury after indicating that more doses from a stockpile would be sent to states. But federal officials have since clarified that the doses are actually from a tranche saved for second doses.
Ms. Psaki added that the Biden Covid response would be run out of the White House. Dr. Bechara Choucair, a former commissioner of Chicago’s health department, will “oversee vaccinations efforts,” Ms. Psaki said, including working to fulfill Mr. Biden’s promise of getting “100 million Covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people” by his 100th day in office.
Dr. Kessler, a pediatrician and lawyer who headed the Food and Drug Administration during the presidencies of George Bush and Bill Clinton, has been a key adviser to Mr. Biden on Covid-19 policy and is a co-chair of the transition team’s Covid-19 task force. He will work alongside Mr. Biden’s pick for health secretary, Xavier Becerra, with the title of “Chief Science Officer of Covid Response.”
His role will be to “focus on maximizing the current supply of vaccines and work with manufacturers to help get more vaccines online as quickly as possible,” Ms. Psaki said.
He will effectively replace Dr. Moncef Slaoui, a researcher and former drug company executive, who will become a consultant to Operation Warp Speed. Dr. Kessler will share top responsibilities for the initiative with Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who will continue as chief operating officer, according to a Biden transition spokesman.
“Dr. Kessler became a trusted adviser to the Biden campaign and to President-elect Biden at the beginning of the pandemic, and has probably briefed Biden 50 or 60 times since March,” said Anita Dunn, a co-chair of the transition team. “When staff gets asked, ‘What do the doctors say?’ we know that David Kessler is one of the doctors that President-elect Biden expects us to have consulted.”
Although Operation Warp Speed is widely credited with making possible the development of two highly effective coronavirus vaccines in record time, it has been much less successful at delivering the shots to the public — a complex task that it shares with numerous federal, state and local authorities.
The Trump administration had vowed to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020, but as of Thursday, just over 11 million inoculations had been given, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Kessler is close to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, who became the leading governmental voice on the pandemic. The two worked closely to speed the development and approval of drugs that changed the course of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s.