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House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) on July 31. Photo: Erin Scott/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

House Democrats on the committee charged with overseeing the federal government's response to the coronavirus announced an investigation Thursday into "Operation Warp Speed," the Trump administration's efforts to accelerate the development and distribution of a vaccine.

Why it matters: In an effort to quickly distribute a vaccine, the Trump administration has bought initial batches from a handful of pharmaceutical companies before knowing whether they are safe and effective, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

What they're saying: The committee is concerned that Moncef Slaoui, a former Moderna executive and the scientist leading the administration's vaccine effort, has financial interests that could undermine the ethics and public trust of a vaccine rollout, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) wrote in a letter to HHS.

  • Clyburn also said he was worried that vaccine candidates chosen under Operation Warp Speed excluded experts and lacked transparency.

The other side: FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn addressed concerns about the integrity of a coronavirus vaccine in the medical journal JAMA last week, saying that "there is a line separating" the government's resources and funding from the FDA’s review processes.

  • An HHS spokesperson pointed out that in early May, Slaoui divested his equity holdings in Moderna before joining Operation Warp Speed. The chief advisor to HHS Secretary Alex Azar for the vaccine project has also "left all advisory boards and boards of directors of companies with even the appearance of conflict," the spokesperson said.
  • Operation Warp Speed selects candidates based on how well they meet criteria on safety, efficacy and large-scale distribution requirements, the spokesperson said.

Background: Slaoui has kept his status as a government contractor while leading the administration's race to distribute a vaccine, which allows him to keep investments in pharmaceutical companies and avoid ethics disclosures, the New York Times reports.

  • The HHS inspector general said in July that it would not require Slaoui to adhere to the ethics rules that federal employees are bound to, citing his unusual role, per the Times.

Go deeper: How the U.S. might distribute a coronavirus vaccine

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from the HHS.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 8, 2020 - Health

The states where face coverings are mandatory

Data: Compiled by Axios; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Wyoming on Monday became the latest state to implement a mask mandate to fight COVID-19, amid a steep spike in cases across the country.

The big picture: States are reintroducing mitigation efforts like closing businesses and advising people to stay home as the U.S. averages the most daily cases of any point in the pandemic.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to coronavirus pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Azar says deadly Capitol siege could "tarnish" Trump administration's legacy — Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

Donald Trump Jr. tests positive for coronavirus

Donald Trump Jr. speaking at CPAC in February 2020. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Donald Trump Jr. tested positive for the coronavirus at the beginning of this week and has been in quarantine, though he is not experiencing any symptoms, according to a spokesperson for the president's son.

Why it matters: His diagnosis adds to the list of people associated with President Trump who have been infected by the virus, including the president himself.