FDA official quickly left Operation Warp Speed

June 8, 2020

An FDA official reportedly left Operation Warp Speed due to concerns that political pressure could be playing too great of a role in the White House’s quest to secure a coronavirus vaccine.

According to a report in Politico, Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), left Warp Speed just days after joining to return to his regulatory post. The official line to FDA staff was that Marks felt there were already enough experts working on the project. But a source told Politico that he actually “left in disgust” after clashing with White House coronavirus coordinator, Deborah Birx, over how the government was prioritizing certain vaccines. Ultimately, Marks reportedly felt that he’d rather be a part of the FDA office with ultimate authority over a vaccine.

The news comes as concerns mount over the political implications of the White House playing a large role in the development of a vaccine. Two professors from the University of Pennsylvania authored a New York Times op-ed this week expressing concerns that President Trump could pull an “October Surprise” and announce an Emergency Use Authorization approval for a vaccine days before the election in order to declare victory over the coronavirus.

The authors pointed to Trump’s push for hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, despite scientific evidence that it was effective, as an example of how the White House could attempt to influence the FDA for political reasons.

There are now over 120 coronavirus vaccines being developed around the world. Although most experts predict that a vaccine won’t be available until mid- to late-2021, Trump is hoping to have enough vaccines produced for Americans by the end of this year. As part of the project, the government is giving major financial backing to several pharma companies to help speed development. Last week, news broke that the White House is planning to name Pfizer, Moderna, Johnon & Johnson, Merck and AstraZeneca/University of Oxford as the top five companies in the hunt for a vaccine.