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HHS spokesman Michael Caputo

Photo by Azi Paybarah / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Michael Caputo claimed baselessly this week that reporters covering the Trump administration "don't want" a coronavirus vaccine.

"I'm telling you that there are members of the press that don't want [it]. And you see that in the coverage, I think, of Operation Warp Speed," said Caputo, referring to the government's partnership with private businesses to ensure rapid development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.

Caputo made the allegation during an HHS podcast interview with Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of the Operation Warp Speed program.

Slaoui, a former executive at Moderna, had to divest a reported $12.4 million in stock options in May after shares in Moderna rose in value when Donald Trump appointed him to the project.

Caputo was complaining about reporting on the transaction when he made his unsubstantiated accusation.

From the "Learning Curve" podcast, posted July 31:

MICHAEL CAPUTO: If people are wondering, I'm talking to Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who's the chief advisor to Operation Warp Speed. I'm Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs, and I am in a really blessed position to be able to talk to all these folks who not only are at the pinnacle of their careers, but they're sacrificing so much. And because this is the Trump administration, you don't realize it, I guess, maybe when you were offered the position, but part of the deal is you go ahead and you fasten a target on your back, don't you?
MONCEF SLAOUI: Yes. Honestly, I think I was naïve when I made the decision. And I wouldn't change the decision anyway because the problem that needs to be addressed is bigger than anything else I can think of on earth, literally.
CAPUTO: In your career?
SLAOUI: In my career but also just the world. The world has almost stalled for two or three months, and we tried to reopen it, and we may have to stall it again. This pandemic has a dramatic impact, the consequences of which will last for a long time.
CAPUTO: Right.
SLAOUI: And we have to do what it takes to help resolve it. I am very disappointed — or, first, I've been very surprised and then extremely disappointed by the fact that having made a decision that has nothing to do with my political motivation or opinion, because I think it's irrelevant in front of the size of the problem, I made a decision to come and help solve a problem, whoever is the president, whatever is the administration color. And I'm amazed that I'm being attacked on a personal basis.
CAPUTO: Right.
SLAOUI: In a way that, frankly, distract my energy and energy of all the teams that we're working together with to deliver. And therefore, decreases our chances or the speed with which we try to help humanity and the country resolve and address this issue. I was very naïve. I thought that, you know, the press in particular was informing, but I now convinced factually that the press has only one objective, which is to shape opinions and to distort information in a way that allows to shape an opinion. And I find that unethical, extremely disappointing. And I hope it — I really hope society will drive towards changing that back to more normalcy.
CAPUTO: I'll tell you, as someone who's been in press relations for 35 years, I don't recognize the media anymore. I'm convinced that the reporters don't want a vaccine, sir. They don't. I know that you're still — maybe you were naïve, but you're still a very optimistic person. I'm telling you that there are members of the press that don't want a vaccine. And you see that in the coverage, I think, of Operation Warp Speed.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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