Ex-HHS chief Sebelius says Trump administration deserves credit for vaccine progress


Washington (CNN)Kathleen Sebelius, a former Health and Human Services secretary under President Barack Obama, offered some praise for the Trump administration’s vaccine efforts on Monday but said the administration has shirked other critical responsibilities in mitigating the spread of coronavirus.

“There’s no question that Operation Warp Speed has been a great success getting to the point in a very rapid period of time of manufacturing a vaccine,” Sebelius told CNN’s John Berman Monday, following the news that early data show that Moderna’s vaccine is 94.5% effective against coronavirus, the second such promising vaccine news from a major US company in a week.

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But, Sebelius added, “the terrible news is nothing else has worked at all, and the federal government has stepped away from every other piece of the puzzle.”

Sebelius said she gives “a lot of credit to the Trump administration for understanding that the muscle of the federal government, the financing from the federal government, the urgency from the federal government, makes a huge difference,” while also praising the speed with which Moderna and Pfizer have made on a potential vaccine.

    However, Sebelius said that she wished that such federal leadership “had been applied from day one across the board on making protective equipment, on making sure that the health care personnel got the help and support that they needed, making sure that we had a uniform set of communication, messages and guidelines across the country for how to shut down, how to open up.”

    Moderna's coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective, according to company data

    She also faulted the Trump administration for blocking a smooth transition to the Biden administration during a “very, very dangerous period of time,” especially as Covid-19 cases across the country continue to surge.

    Soon after Moderna released news of its promising early data on Monday morning, President Donald Trump took credit on Twitter, saying that the vaccine developments “all took place on my watch!”

    While Moderna did take research and development funding from the Trump administration and worked under National Institutes of Health oversight, Pfizer developed its vaccine independently, although it took an upfront payment of $1.95 billion for future delivery of vaccines under Operation Warp Speed. Some experts with whom CNN spoke said last week the Trump administration’s purchase guarantee may have contributed to the speed with which Pfizer arrived at its promising early results, which the company announced last week, though they could not say with certainty how much influence the administration had.

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    Sebelius said that in addition to the President and his administration, it is incumbent upon the United States Senate to aid in the Covid-19 response.

      “The Senate has the keys to the castle right now,” Sebelius said Monday.

      “The Senate could actually pass a bill that gives Americans some confidence that they would have economic support, get the extra $600 in unemployment benefits running again, make sure that people understand that they could feed their kids and pay their rent if we have in some areas of the country to restrict activities. And they have the ability to step up to their president and say, ‘You need to act differently, you must acknowledge the election and conduct a smooth transition,'” she said. “So, I really don’t want to let (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell off the hook.”