Rick Bright, the recently ousted government vaccine official, will testify before Congress on Thursday that the Trump administration was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic and that the U.S. may soon face its “darkest winter in modern history.”
“The world is confronting a great public health emergency which has the potential to eclipse the devastation wrought by the 1918 influenza which globally claimed over 50 million lives,” Bright is expected to say in his prepared remarks.
He also lays out the need for a coordinated national response, as opposed to President Donald Trump’s efforts to push the burden onto states and local leaders. He will testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee.
“Our window of opportunity is closing,” he says. “If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities.”
Bright filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel after he was ousted from his role as the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), in which he oversaw the federal government’s search for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. He has alleged that his removal was in retaliation for his opposition of the broad use of a drug that Trump frequently touted as a coronavirus treatment despite no evidence it worked.
“I spoke out then and I am testifying today because science — not politics or cronyism — must lead the way to combat this deadly virus,” Bright says.
In the testimony he prepared, Bright recounts pushing the Department of Health and Human Services to get a head start on preparing a for a potential coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. early this year, only to be shot down.
“In January of this year, I pushed for our government to obtain virus samples from China and to secure more funding for BARDA to be able to get started quickly on the development of critical medical countermeasures,” he says. “HHS leadership was dismissive about my dire predictions about what I assumed would be a broader outbreak and the pressing need to act, and were therefore unwilling to act with the urgency that the situation required.”
He will also testify that when he warned throughout the first three months of the year that the U.S. needed to increase “production of masks, respirators and other critical supplies, such as medicine, syringes and swabs,” HHS again dismissed his urgency and cut him out of high-level meetings regarding a COVID-19 response plan.