WASHINGTON — Gus Perna, the four-star Army general responsible for coordinating the U.S. coronavirus vaccine response, is set to retire this summer, according to four current and former Health and Human Services officials.
A number of Perna’s top deputies have also left the initiative in recent weeks, including Doug Meyer, the operation’s former chief of operations, Marion Whicker, the former deputy chief of supply, production and distribution, and Eric Shirley, the operation’s former chief of staff, according to STAT’s review of the officials’ LinkedIn profiles.
Other officials appear to be looking for new jobs: The initiative’s general counsel, Gregory Gillette, wrote on his LinkedIn profile that he is “looking to transition this fall.”
Operation Warp Speed is technically ongoing. The Biden administration has renewed the agreement that allows the military and health departments to work together on the initiative, but it also quietly changed the name. Now, Warp Speed is known as the Countermeasures Acceleration Group, according to two sources.
The Biden administration has downplayed the contributions of the Warp Speed operation to the U.S. vaccination effort. In addition to the name change, the administration has largely centralized the vaccine distribution effort within the White House, rather than relying on HHS and the Department of Defense, as President Trump did.
However, Biden’s pick to co-lead the vaccination effort alongside Perna, former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, vociferously praised Perna and his contributions to the vaccination effort.
“There is no finer public servant,” Kessler said. “He was instrumental in getting this country vaccinated so quickly.”
Perna was chosen to serve as chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed in May 2020. The 39-year Army veteran, who most recently led the Army’s logistics arm, frequently served as the chief spokesperson for the Trump administration’s rocky vaccine rollout.
It’s not entirely clear why Warp Speed is facing such staff turnover, though three sources told STAT changes in Department of Defense staff were normal, planned staff rotations. Perna had previously pledged not to leave the initiative “until my part of the mission is done or I’m told otherwise.”
The White House and Department of Defense did not respond to requests for comment. Perna also did not respond to requests for comment.
Shirley is now commanding another branch of the military’s Defense Logistics Agency, according to his LinkedIn profile. Whicker appears to be back serving in her old position in the Army, according to her LinkedIn profile. Neither could be reached for comment.
Meyer told STAT that he left the initiative in May for training obligations.