Democrat President Joe Biden is spending $5 billion in taxpayer money on a new initiative to develop vaccines for COVID-19.
White House officials announced the effort this week in an interview with The Washington Post.
Dubbed “Project NextGen,” the new initiative seeks to expedite the development of vaccines for Covid and other emerging coronaviruses.
Project NextGen is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation and is backed by Biden’s former top health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The program will also encourage further partnerships between the public and private sectors.
According to Reuters, the project will be managed out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
HHS will coordinate across various federal government agencies and private-sector actors, covering “all phases of development from lab research and clinical trials to delivery.”
“Scientists, public health experts, and politicians have called for the initiative, warning that existing therapies have steadily lost their effectiveness and that new ones are needed,” the Post reported.
The new initiative is based on a “roadmap” for the development of new Covid shots, formulated by the University of Minnesota and led by a former Biden administration official.
According to USA Today, the initial $5 billion in funding “will be financed through money saved from contracts costing less than originally estimated.”
Ashish Jha, White House coronavirus coordinator, said the new initiative has three primary goals: creating longer-lasting vaccines, accelerating the development of nasal vaccines, and bolstering efforts to create “broader” pan-coronavirus vaccines.
The project also includes funding for more durable monoclonal antibodies.
The name “Project NextGen,” made more sense, Jha said, as it is “a different time” with “a different set of goals.”
The new name “much more accurately captures what it is that we are trying to do,” he said.
Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, is helping lead the effort.
In February, CIDRAP developed a “roadmap” for the development of “better” coronavirus vaccines.
This “roadmap” serves as the basis for Project NextGen.
Osterholm was a member of the COVID-19 advisory board convened by then-president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.
The board was dissolved when Biden took office in January 2021.
Jha told the Post, “It’s been very clear to us that the market on this is moving very slowly.
“There’s a lot that government can do, the administration can do, to speed up those tools … for the American people.”
Previously, during a July 2022 White House coronavirus vaccine summit, Jha said:
“We need vaccines that are more durable.
“Vaccines that offer broader and longer-lasting protection.
“Vaccines that can stand up to multiple variants.
“Vaccines that can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at us.”
Osterholm characterized existing COVID-19 vaccines as “really good” but “not great.”
“There is a substantial amount of work [to be done] to take these good vaccines and hopefully achieve better vaccines,” Osterholm said.
Reuters quoted an unnamed HHS spokesperson, who stated:
“While our vaccines are still very effective at preventing serious illness and death, they are less capable of reducing infections and transmission over time.
“New variants and loss of immunity over time could continue to challenge our healthcare systems in the coming years.
“Project NextGen will accelerate and streamline the rapid development of the next generation of vaccines and treatments through public-private collaborations.
“The infusion of a $5 billion investment, at minimum, will help catalyze scientific advancement in areas that have large public health benefits for the American people, with the goal of developing safe and effective tools for the American people.”
The Post noted, however, that while the outbreak of new coronaviruses in recent decades has “spurred worries about the potential for future health crises,” it might take years to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine, noting that such efforts have been unsuccessful for influenza despite decades of efforts.
On Feb. 21, CIDRAP published its “roadmap for advancing better coronavirus vaccines” — with $1 million in support from the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, “To help jump-start the search for better vaccines [and] develop broadly protective vaccines.”
According to the project description, the funding was used to assemble “an international collaboration of 50 scientists who mapped out a strategy to make the new vaccines a reality.”
Osterholm stated at the time, “If we wait for the next event to happen before we act, it will be too late.”
Bruce Gellin, M.D., M.P.H., chief of Global Public Health Strategy at The Rockefeller Foundation, said that there is an “urgency” to take the next steps, calling for an “equivalent” to Operation Warp Speed.
According to CIDRAP, Gellin “has led several federal vaccine initiatives and has been a technical advisor for groups including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, COVAX, and the World Health Organization.”
Fauci was one of the voices who “spent months pressing Congress for billions of dollars that could be used to develop next-generation vaccines and treatments,” the Post reported.
The report adds that these arguments “largely fell flat” in the face of Republican opposition.
Project NextGen is also still without a leader, with the White House “still considering candidates,” according to the Post.