U.S. still lacks clear coronavirus plan -whistleblower

“Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history….”

Those foreboding words echoed through a House chamber Thursday as leading health expert and whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright described what he saw as a critical lack of preparedness by the Trump administration to combat the coronavirus outbreak early on.

“I believe by not telling America the truth or being fully transparent regardless of where the information was coming from, people were not as prepared as they could have been and should have been.”

Bright was recently removed from his post as head of a government agency tasked with developing drugs to fight the virus.

He filed a formal whistleblower complaint last week claiming that his early warnings about the virus fell on deaf ears and eventually led to his ouster.

On Thursday, Bright testified that he told officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to ramp up on supplies like N95 masks, recalling an email he said he’d “never forget” from the head of a mask supply company.

“And he said, ‘We’re in deep shit. The world is. And we need to act.’ And I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS and got no response.”

Bright, who made sure to sanitize his space prior to the proceedings, also said his suggestion to increase the supply of anti-viral medication remdesivir helped get him pushed out because the administration was more focused on promoting the unproven drug chloroquine.

(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) DR. RICK BRIGHT, SAYING:

“There was no action taken on the urgency to come up with a plan for acquisition of limited doses of remdesivir.”

(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) REP. ANNA ESHOO, SAYING:

“And instead of acting on your recommendations was the response of others to try and cut you out of key meetings, marginalize your participation?”

(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) DR. RICK BRIGHT, SAYING:

“I was told that my urgings were causing a commotion and I was removed from those meetings.”

He also said he feared similar supply constraints will apply to vaccines in development.

(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) REP. FRANK PALLONE, SAYING:

“Should I be concerned, based on your experience?”

(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) DR. RICK BRIGHT, SAYING:

“Absolutely, sir. There’s no one company that can produce enough for our country or the world. There’s going to be limited supplies. We need to have a plan in place now to make sure we can not only fill that vaccine, make it, distribute it, but administer it in a fair and equitable plan.”

President Trump has dismissed Bright as “a disgruntled employee.” During his testimony, Trump appeared on the White House lawn alongside HHS Secretary Alex Azar who decried Bright’s claims, saying the administration focused on ramping up supplies and medications early on.

“So this is like somebody who was in a choir, who is now trying to say he was a soloist back then... So his allegations do not hold water. They do not hold water.”

But Bright, who has been reassigned to another government job, remained emphatic about the need for a coordinated federal response, something he said is still not in place.

“This is a devastating pandemic and not just for health but also society and if we do not take seriously the call for action then this virus will overcome us in significant ways.”

Video Transcript

RICK BRIGHT: Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.

- Those foreboding words echoed through a house chamber Thursday as leading health expert and whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright described what he saw as a critical lack of preparedness by the Trump administration to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Early on, I believe, by not telling America the truth or being fully transparent, regardless of where the information was coming from, people were not as prepared as they could have been and should have been.

- Bright was recently removed from his post as head of a government agency tasked with developing drugs to fight the virus. He filed a formal whistleblower complaint last week, claiming that his early warnings about the virus fell on deaf ears and eventually led to his ouster. On Thursday, Bright testified that he told officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to ramp up on supplies like N95 masks, recalling an email he said he'd, quote, "never forget" from the head of a mask supply company.

RICK BRIGHT: And he said, "We're in deep shit. The world is. And we need to act." And I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS and got no response.

- Bright, who made sure to sanitize his space prior to the proceedings, also said his suggestion to increase the supply of antiviral medication remdesivir helped to get him pushed out because the administration was more focused on promoting the unproven drug chloroquine.

RICK BRIGHT: There was no action taken on the urgency to come up with a plan for acquisition of limited doses of remdesivir.

ANNA ESHOO: And instead of acting on your recommendations, was the response of others to try and cut you out of key meetings, marginalize your participation?

RICK BRIGHT: I was told that my urgings were causing a commotion, and I was removed from those meetings.

- He also said he feared similar supply constraints will apply to vaccines in development.

FRANK PALLONE: Should I be concerned, based on your experience?

RICK BRIGHT: Absolutely, sir. There is no one company that can produce enough for our country or for the world. It's going to be limited supplies. We need to have a strategy and plan in place now to make sure that we can not only fill that vaccine, make it, distribute it, but administer it in a fair and equitable plan.

- President Trump has dismissed Bright as a disgruntled employee. During his testimony, Trump appeared on the White House lawn alongside HHS secretary Alex Azar, who decried Bright's claims, saying the administration focused on ramping up supplies and medications early on.

ALEX AZAR: So this is like somebody who was in a choir and is now trying to say he was a soloist back then. His allegations do not hold water. They do not hold water.

- But Bright, who has been reassigned to another government job, remained emphatic about the need for a coordinated federal response, something he said is still not in place.

RICK BRIGHT: This is a devastating pandemic and not just for health but also society. And if we do not take seriously the call for action, then this virus will overcome us in significant ways.