In fact, the lightning-fast development of two leading coronavirus vaccines happened both because of and despite Trump — perhaps the most anti-science president in modern history, who has previously flirted with anti-vaccine views and savaged those who cited scientific evidence to press for basic public health measures in response to the pandemic.

The lifelong businessman who refused to wear a mask himself was able to understand vaccines as something else entirely: a deliverable that he could make happen with money. Unlike a mask, a vaccine represented a display of American technological prowess, an appealing solution that didn’t require painful steps like closing small businesses. For the president, it exerted an increasingly strong pull as the election approached.

“I do think the urgency for Operation Warp Speed was heightened by the fact that we were in the middle of an election year,” said Daniel Carpenter, a political scientist at Harvard University. “On the whole, it was a good thing — it led a potentially anti-science, anti-vaccine administration to push harder for a vaccine. What we will end up seeing in the long run is this is an unparalleled private and public sector mobilization that happened.”