Throughout the career of Col. Matt Clark, USA, high dose naloxone auto injectors and freeze-dried plasma have moved from clever ideas to tangible products troops can take to the field for lifesaving procedures.
In June 2020, when the world needed a COVID-19 vaccine, the Army called Clark to tap into his knowledge on medical research and development.
“You’re affecting public health and tackling a very, very difficult enemy in a way that allows us to face it head-on assertively and in an action-oriented way,” Clark said. “So getting a product that matters, that’s relevant, that has an impact … that’s the most meaningful part.”
The military has long been involved in developing vaccines.
Troops can be exposed to rare viruses not prevalent in the U.S., and viruses that can be weaponized, which could threaten national security. So the military has its own dedicated scientists and researchers to protect troops who can be exposed to viruses during deployments.
“If we deploy somewhere and there is a biological or a biodefense threat that includes any sort of virus — historically we’ve looked at Ebola, Marburg, things that are both endemic threats as well as those that can be weaponized — the military needs to be able to be prepared,” Clark said. “There’s not enough money and or commercial demand to push a company to want to do it. Because there’s not that pressure to do it, the military has to do it because its related to our national security.”
The first case of COVID was diagnosed in the U.S. on Jan. 20, 2020. Researchers sprung into action and began developing vaccines at labs across the country, including the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
Approximately 28 million cases of COVID have been diagnosed in the U.S., with nearly 500,000 people dying from the virus as of Feb. 22, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Clark, a former MOAA board member, took a hiatus from his post inthe office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology at the Pentagon to join what was then called Operation Warp Speed, the Department of Health and Human Services, to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. A bulk of his responsibility is to support the six major vaccine efforts in development while continuing to look for other products that could become viable in the future.
He works with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure clinical trials follow proper guidance to be safe for injection, then follow up with patients to ensure they are effective. Clark said he and other researchers are confident in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.
“Operation Warp Speed has the greatest collection of professionals across those lanes in my entire career,” he said. “To me, the message is about trust and understanding we’re doing our best and you’ve got the greatest minds and people working on these vaccines and they’re committed to doing it.”