Select Subcommittee Seeks Transparency on Conflicts of Interest and Vaccine Selection in Operation Warp Speed
Washington, D.C. (August 13, 2020) -- Yesterday, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent letters to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Operation Warp Speed Chief Advisor Dr. Moncef Slaoui, and David S. Harris, President and Chief Executive Officer of Advanced Decision Vectors, seeking documents and information on potential conflicts of interest in Operation Warp Speed, the Administration’s vaccine and therapeutic development initiative. The letters also seek information on the Administration’s process to select vaccine candidates for investment through this initiative.
“Successful development of a vaccine requires scientific rigor and an open and transparent process that is free from financial and political conflicts of interest,” the Chairman wrote to Secretary Azar. “This is especially true of a vaccine developed on an accelerated basis. The Select Subcommittee strongly supports efforts to develop and distribute a life-saving coronavirus vaccine, but I am concerned that the selection of candidate vaccines for Operation Warp Speed lacked transparency and excluded many vaccine experts. I am also concerned that Dr. Slaoui’s financial interests in companies receiving federal funding—which he has referred to as “my retirement”—raise serious ethical issues and could undermine public confidence in this process.”
Operation Warp Speed’s chief advisor, Dr. Slaoui, is a venture capitalist and former pharmaceutical executive. He held $10 million in GlaxoSmithKline securities as of May 2020. On July 31, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi jointly secured an agreement of up to $2.1 billion to supply the federal government with 100 million doses of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, the largest such deal announced to date.
Dr. Slaoui also held significant holdings in Moderna, another company developing a coronavirus vaccine. On April 16, 2020, the federal government awarded $483 million in support to Moderna. On May 18, 2020, after joining Operation Warp Speed and amid widespread public pressure, Dr. Slaoui agreed to divest his holdings in Moderna. The federal government awarded another $472 million in support for Moderna on July 26, 2020.
The Chairman wrote: “It remains unclear whether Dr. Slaoui or other consultants working for Operation Warp speed have undisclosed conflicts of interest because the Administration has structured their contracts to avoid the ethics rules and requirements to disclose outside positions, stock holdings, and other potential conflicts that are applicable to federal employees.”
The Administration has reportedly hired Dr. Slaoui and several other outside consultants with ties to the pharmaceutical industry through a contractor, Advanced Decision Vectors. Two of these consultants, William Erhardt and Dr. Rachel Harrigan, are former Pfizer executives. On July 22, the Administration placed an order for a coronavirus vaccine, jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, worth $1.95 billion upon the vaccine’s successful production and distribution.
“Addressing potential conflicts of interest is critical to assure the public that decisions pertaining to the manufacturing and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine are made with a sound scientific basis, not for political reasons or for the financial benefit of any individual.”
The letter to Secretary Azar also expressed concern that the Administration’s process for selecting vaccine candidates has been opaque, and that the Administration has not released the list of vaccine candidates reviewed, the reasons for selecting or rejecting particular candidates, or the identity of the individuals who conducted the analysis or were responsible for selection decisions.