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Operation Warp Speed (OWS) was launched on May 15, 2020. A partnership between the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Defense (DoD), other agencies, and the private sector, its goal was to “accelerate the testing, supply, development, and distribution of safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics, and diag­nostics to counter Covid-19.” As a result of OWS, millions of lives were saved from the pandemic.

Operation Warp Speed was a triumph of public health policy. But it was also a triumph and validation of industrial policy. OWS shows what the U.S. government can still accomplish when it comes to tackling a seemingly unsolvable technological challenge. It demonstrates the strength of the U.S. developmental state, despite forty years of ideological assault.

OWS offers insights into what is required to rebuild American production of key medical products and other industrial capabilities more generally. Investing in only basic scientific research, the tra­ditional strategy of the United States, is not sufficient. Instead, reindustrialization requires sustained demand—as provided by Warp Speed’s guaranteed contracts. To avoid stagnation, it should involve competition among firms as well—which in OWS took the form of a race for FDA approval of vaccines.

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