WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump has made controversial statements on migrants a hallmark of his presidency and presidential campaign before that. The irony of his choice to appoint a Muslim, Moroccan, African, immigrant, to one of the most important roles in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic has not been lost on many observers.
Former GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Vaccine Chairman Moncef Slaoui will lead US efforts to find a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus by the end of this year. Reflecting the strategic urgency of the project, the Trump administration has christened it ‘Operation Warp Speed’. A 2016 profile by Fortune magazine, which included him in its list of top 50 greatest leaders in the world, describes his journey from the Atlantic-coast city of Agadir in Morocco, to one of the world’s top immunologists.
Slaoui’s background follows the narrative arc of the classic migrant success story.
A 2016 profile by Fortune magazine, which included him in its list of top 50 greatest leaders in the world, describes his journey from the Atlantic-coast city of Agadir in Morocco, to one of the world’s top immunologists. His journey to the top was spurred by the death of his sister from whooping cough.
From there he went on to study Biology and Molecular Biology at the Free University of Brussels, then teaching Immunology at the University of Mons.
Later Slaoui studied at the Harvard and Tuft Medical schools before being tapped up by GSK to help its vaccine development programmes.
The Morrocan has already helped contribute to the fight against cervical cancer and malaria with his expertise in developing vaccines, as well as against ebola.
Before the 55-year-old’s appointment to lead Operation Warp Speed, another North African, Algerian biomedical engineer Elias Zerhouni was a leading contender for the position.
Referring to Slaoui’s Muslim origin and Trump’s infamous remarks on Islam in his early political career, academic Juan Cole pointed out that the appointment illustrated just how far the US president’s remarks on Muslims were from reality.
“Some of the best players in the health field are Muslims and Jews, whom we should embrace with love and gratitude for what they do for their country. So no, Islam doesn’t ‘hate us’ Mr. Trump. Take it back, ” Cole wrote.
The challenge of developing a vaccine before the end of the year, is nevertheless a difficult one, with even Slaoui initially putting cold water on the president’s optimism.
"Frankly, 12-18 months is already a very aggressive timeline," he said. Later he said he was confident that new data showed it was possible.