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‘Operation Warp Speed’–Is it moving too fast?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, April 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The coronavirus pandemic has swept the nation since the virus landed in the U.S. with the first confirmed case discovered on January 21, 2020. While deaths are down, cases are on the rise.

Some states are putting a pause on their reopening plans. Others are reverting back to previous restrictions. To put it simply, in terms of COVID-19, time is not on our side. Something needs to happen, and quickly. Federal health officials are hoping “Operation Warp Speed” will be the solution. 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force initiated the project on May 15 and there are many players in the hunt for a vaccine. Currently, the administration is funding 17 clinical trials and over 150 possible treatments. But is “Operation Warp Speed” moving too fast? 

Vaccinations can take five to 10 years to develop and science is imperfect to begin with. Combine that with a pace unlike any in history, mistakes are likely to be made. Some larger than others, but always with a cost. And not just a monetary one. Misinformation spreads like wildfire impacting both the scientific community and the lay public, which leads us to what are called “retracted studies.”

“Retracted studies, at least we hope, aren’t that common,” said James Mohler, PhD, research integrity officer at Purdue University. “Something I often deal with [in my position] is research misconduct. This can include fabrication and falsification of data as well as plagiarism.”

Another way retraction occurs is if a researcher discovers there was something erroneous or questionable in their data or in how data was collected, said Mohler. The difference between the two ways a study is retracted comes down to ethics. In these circumstances, scientists retract the study on their own accord. 

Regardless, this is damaging to the public. 

“The public puts a lot of faith and trust in these studies. Many of them are funded through federal tax dollars,” said Mohler. “It’s also a breach of trust when something goes awry. However, there is no research article that gets retracted and goes unnoticed.”

To date, 25 COVID-19 studies have been retracted, three need further investigation and one has scientists raising their eyebrows, according to watchdog agency, Retraction Watch.

In terms of the coronavirus, it’s a double-edge sword, said Mohler. 

“We’re going to rush by necessity to find a vaccination and therapeutics to fight it. I know we need treatments. I know we need a vaccine. But it’s kind of a hit or miss. I worry there might be too much guess work going on. The rush [of “Operation Warp Speed”] might actually cause more problems than solve if we’re not careful.”