Operation Warp Speed projects 70% herd immunity, potential return to normalcy May 2021

Dr. Moncef Slaoui expects vaccines to start being distributed by mid-December

America might reach herd immunity from the coronavirus sometime around May, according to a timeline laid out by Operation Warp Speed's top science adviser.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui spoke with Jake Tapper during Sunday’s “State of the Union,” addressing the timeline for delivering vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer – each of which is pending approval.

An advisory panel is meeting Dec. 10 to determine whether or not to approve the vaccines. Should the panel grant approval, Slaoui said that the government will move fast to deliver the vaccines across the country.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

"Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours from the approval, so I would expect maybe on day two after approval, on the 11th or 12th of December,” Slaoui said.

When asked how long it may take to reach herd immunity, which would potentially allow for a return to normalcy, Slaoui confirmed that Operation Warp Speed determined it could distribute up to 20 million immunizations a month starting in December.

“Normally, with the level of efficacy we have – 95% - then 70% or so of the population being immunized would allow true herd immunity to take place,” Slaoui said. “That is likely to happen somewhere in the month of May, something like that, based on our plans.”

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Operation Warp Speed will take its cues from state health departments to determine where the vaccines should go and who will receive the immunizations first.

Slaoui said the Center for Disease Control and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice would meet to issue guidance as to who states should prioritize for vaccinations, but the final decision would be up to each state.

“But clearly the highest-risk people, front-line workers, essential workers should be among the first,” Slaoui said.

The key, though, will be to shift public perceptions about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. A recent Gallup poll found that only about 58% of people trust the vaccine enough to take it.

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“I really hope and look forward to seeing the level of negative perception people have about the vaccine decrease and positive perception increase,” Slaoui said. “Most people need to be immunized before we can return to a normal life.”

In subsequent Sunday morning show appearance, Slaoui answered questions regarding the handoff between the Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration, with President-elect Joe Biden set to announce key cabinet appointments this coming week. 

On ABC's "This Week," Slaoui confirmed that Operation Warp Speed has had no contact yet with anyone on the Biden transition team. 

Talking with Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," Slaoui stressed that Operation Warp Speed has been separate from "the political environment," and hopes that there is no disruption during the transition. 

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"My personal role, as you know, is that I have volunteered for this on a limited basis," Slaoui said. "My personal agenda is that when we have two vaccines approved, and two medicines approved, and the rest of the portfolio we have in good hands, I'll probably move back to my private life." 

"As you know, I've been highly supportive of the program, and if it means I'll work with the new administration, I'll be very happy to."