As the two approved COVID-19 vaccines roll out, their incredibly quick of development and production give us great hope the 2021 will bring the state, the country and the world some relief.
It can’t come soon enough. One in one thousand Americans — at a minimum — have died of the virus in the past nine months, including more than 900 Montanans.
Even as we navigate the bitter politics and division that led up to, and followed, last month’s election, one utterly apolitical thing must be pointed out: Montana’s newly re-elected senator, Steve Daines, has helped save lives, and is owed our gratitude.
Daines, who was a chemical engineer and a corporate executive before he was a politician, was troubled that back in March, when the first COVID-19 relief and stimulus bill, the CARES Act, was being formulated, not enough attention was being paid to the process of actually ending the pandemic. Rushing aid to individuals and businesses was important, certainly, but so was the development and deployment of vaccine.
Daines had professional experience with FDA-regulated products, so he knew how long approvals can take. That’s not a knock on the system; the FDA has to investigate a prospective vaccine or any other drug thoroughly to make sure it is safe and effective before it is released to the public.
So it became clear to him that the idea of dual tracking was important. Normally, a pharmaceutical company would never begin to mass-produce a drug, no matter how promising, until it received FDA approval. So he worked to appropriate $10 billion to accelerate the development and manufacture of promising vaccine.
Putting these vaccines into mass production even as clinical trials were progressing shaved months off the amount of time needed to get them to the public.
Both Pfizer and Moderna took advantage of the money that Daines got inserted into the CARES Act. Moderna, a much smaller company, used the money to begin production back in April. Pfizer used money to speed delivery. All six vaccine candidates took money in some capacity, most for manufacturing.
Daines’ work back in March basically jump-started Operation Warp Speed.
The pharmaceutical companies, his fellow senators and the President and Vice President have all cited Daines’ role in the process as being pivotal.
No matter what our party affiliation, we should be grateful and proud that our Montana senator had the wisdom and standing to get this done. His role in something so important — in something so lifesaving — should not be forgotten.
The Billings Gazette Editorial Board includes President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber, and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.