A vaccine expert who claims he was ousted from his role at the Department of Health and Human Services will tell Congress on Thursday that President Donald Trump’s administration was not prepared for the novel coronavirus pandemic and that it dismissed his warnings about how bad it could become.
“As I reflect on the past few months of this outbreak, it is painfully clear that we were not as prepared as we should have been. We missed early warning signals and we forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook,” Dr. Rick Bright said in prepared testimony released Wednesday.
Bright, who until last month was the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, is scheduled to testify Thursday morning before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee in a hearing dedicated to “protecting scientific integrity” of the country’s response to COVID-19. Last week, Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that the Trump administration’s decision to reassign him was a “retaliatory” action, prompted by Bright pushing back on how the administration was handling the virus response, including the president’s support of an unproven drug, chloroquine, as treatment for the illness.
“The truth must be based on scientific evidence – and not filtered for political reasons. We must know and appreciate what we are up against. We have the world’s greatest scientists – they must be permitted to lead. Let them speak truthfully without fear of retribution. We must listen so that the government can then take the most powerful steps to save lives,” Bright wrote in his testimony.
A department spokeswoman has refuted Bright’s characterization of his change in duties, saying Bright was transferred to a job with the National Institutes of Health to work on developing diagnostic testing for the coronavirus.
Lawmakers will have the chance to ask Bright about his conversations with the administration. But he is also expected to lay out what he identifies as key steps to fighting the virus. The pandemic could cause“unprecedented illness and fatalities” if the country fails to develop a national coordinated response, he wrote.
“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 [the] darkest winter in modern history,” Bright wrote in the statement.