"A riveting, sometimes startling, sometimes chilling page-turner of a book."

– Deborah Blum

The
Inside Story of
Operation Warp
Speed and the
Race to End the
Pandemic

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Praise for The First Shots
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Borrell’s gripping, behind-the-scenes look at the race for a COVID vaccine reads like a thriller. But it’s also a stunning look at politics, greeds, ego – and scientific brilliance, from the arduous task of production, then testing, to decisions about who gets immunized first.

People Magazine

 
The Story
 
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On December 26, 2019, a man walked into the Wuhan Central Hospital with a cough and a fever. Soon, he was gasping for air, and had to be placed on a ventilator. A sample taken from his lungs contained a coronavirus whose gene sequence was shared around the world.

A Specimen Arrives

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Stabilizing the Spike

The coronavirus is a wily foe, covered in spikes that change shape before the body can develop the defenses needed to prevent them from hijacking our cells. Long before the pandemic broke out, an unassuming vaccinologist from Kansas named Barney Graham had spent years working on ways create dummy spikes that the body could learn to attack: a vaccine, in other words. Two days after the genome of the novel coronavirus went online on January 10, 2020, Graham's team had their plan of attack.

Without faith, you can't have hope, and without hope, it's difficult to love." – Barney Graham

"Moderna is going to work. We will have a vaccine." – Anthony Fauci

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Race to the Vaccine

Almost every major vaccine maker chose to follow Barney Graham's lead, aiming to manufacture a spike-based vaccine using his revolutionary design. Graham and a sassy research fellow in his lab, Kizzmekia Corbett, worked closely with an unproven drugmaker called Moderna Therapeutics as their mRNA-based vaccine entered the first-in-human trials in Seattle on March 16, 2020. 

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The Operation

During the pandemic, a military doctor and former spy named Robert Kadlec ("Dr. Bob") ran an obscure, understaffed health agency called the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness Response. Reviled inside the Trump White House and battered by the media, Kadlec couldn't catch a break. Working with a geeky vaccine regulator at the Food and Drug Administration, he created the blueprints for what would become Operation Warp Speed during a historic meeting in his office on April 10, 2020.

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"This is war, baby" – Robert Kadlec

"It’s called Operation Warp Speed. That means big and it means fast. A massive scientific, industrial, and logistical endeavor unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan Project." – President Donald Trump, May 14, 2020

Dr. Bob

Eight months later, we had a vaccine.

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On October 26, you can read the incredible story of how science prevailed amid a once-in-a-century pandemic and the most dysfunctional White House in the nation's history.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Brendan Borrell is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Atlantic, Bloomberg Businessweek, National Geographic, the New York Times, Smithsonian, and OutsideThe First Shots is his first book.

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The First Shots Trailer
 
 
Selected News, Interviews, and Essays
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Upcoming Events

  • Dec 01, 11:00 AM
    Twitter Spaces
    Hosted by Popular Mechanics editor Courtney Linder with General Gustave Perna and Dr. Matt Hepburn
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  • Dec 01, 7:00 PM
    Facebook (will be aired on C-Span Book TV)
    In conversation with New York Times Health and Science Reporter Apoorva Mandavilli
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  • Dec 08, 4:00 PM PST
    Zoom
    SWINY co-chair David Levine (@dlloydlevine) will talk with Brendan about his book, which tells the full inside story of the high-stakes, global race for the lifesaving vaccine to end the pandemic.
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