‘They deserve the truth’: Warning ignored
A whistleblower doctor who claims he was ousted from his White House job has claimed lives were lost due to a three-month delay in coronavirus action - and said he remembers a blunt conversation he had with a mask maker as a result.
Dr Rick Bright testified before Congress about his experience with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during the COVID-19 crisis on Thursday, reports The Sun.
Dr Bright lambasted the Trump administration's "absurd" three-month delay in responding to his virus warnings, saying "I believe lives were lost" as a result.
Describing critical delays, Dr Bright recalled how one mask producer told him in a note that "we are in deep s**t, the world is."
During the testimony, Mr Trump slammed Dr Bright as "a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!"
"I began pushing urgently in January along with industry colleagues as well," the axed director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) said.
"Those urges, those alarms were not responded to with action," Dr Bright added.
"There was no action taken on the urgency to come up with a plan for acquisition of limited doses of remdisivir, nor [to] distribute those limited doses of remdisivir once we had scientific data to help those infected with the virus."
But Mr Trump again dismissed his claims during an afternoon press briefing that coincided with the hearing.
"To me he is nothing more than a really unhappy disgruntled person," the president told reporters.
The White House has since launched what it calls Operation Warp Speed to quickly produce, distribute and administer a vaccine once it becomes available.
But Dr Bright, who has doctoral degree in immunology and worked at BARDA for 25 years before being ousted, said a strategised, centralised, co-ordinated plan and "proper leadership" was vital early on.
"We've known for some time that our stockpile is insufficient in having personal protective equipment," Dr Bright said. "Once the virus began spreading and became known as a threat, I did feel quite concerned we didn't have those supplies."
"Americans deserve the truth," he said later.
"We have the world's greatest scientists. Let us speak. Let us lead without fear of retribution."
The vaccine expert, who was removed from his job in April, said that no action was taken to put a viable plan in place when Secretary Azar and the HHS were briefed on the outbreak in Wuhan.
Dr Bright - who has yet to accept a role at NIH - said officials are already experiencing challenges with limited doses of the recently approved drug, which was given emergency use authorisation by the FDA.
The Feds have hit back, saying Dr Bright has "not yet shown up for work" even though he was on a "taxpayer-funded" medical leave for hypertension but continues to collect his $285,010 salary.
The HHS' blistering statement argued that his complaint was full of "one-sided arguments and misinformation" on Thursday.
"It has some benefit in people and we have limited doses," he explained. "We have limited doses and we haven't scaled up production.
"We don't have a plan on how to fairly and equitably distribute that drug.
"If you can imagine the scenario this fall or winter, maybe even early next spring when the vaccine becomes available, there is no one company that can produce for our country or the world, it will be limited supplies.
"We need to have a strategy and plan in place now to make sure we cannot only fill that vaccine, make it, distribute it - but administer it in a fair and equitable plan."
Dr Bright's comments come after his whistleblower complaint last week raised concerns about the virus to the Trump administration in January.
In it, he warned this winter will be the "darkest in US history" due to a second wave of the deadly bug.
Today, he echoed those fears, highlighting that "time is running out because the virus is still spreading everywhere and people are getting restless."
Bright said that coupled with a seasonal influenza outbreak, a resurgence "could be devastating."
"If we fail to develop a national co-ordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities," he said, when pressed by one congresswoman.
In a prepared three-page testimony, the scientist wrote had highlighted that "our window of opportunity is closing.
"If we fail to develop a national co-ordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities," he said.
"While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of the COVID-19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system.
"Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history."
He previously said that Azar repeatedly downplayed and ignored his virus warnings.
More than 84,000 Americans have died - one-fourth of global deaths and the world's highest toll, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission
Originally published as 'They deserve the truth': Warning ignored