Dr. Rick Bright, the former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), found out the hard way what happens to government scientists when they choose to promote policies based on science rather than the opportunistic political goals of Donald Trump.
His experience being ousted from BARDA last month has led him to become one of the most important whistleblowers exposing the behind-the-scenes jousting over the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Trump administration between medical professionals concerned with public health outcomes and economic and political advisors who are more concerned about the president’s rapidly shrinking prospects in the November elections.
Having refused to go quietly after being reassigned from his position as one of the nation’s leading vaccine development experts after clashing with political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services when he objected to the promotion of the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — the drugs being touted by the president to treat the coronavirus — Dr. Bright is now scheduled to testify tomorrow before the Subcommittee on Health, part of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
CNN managed to get an advance copy of his prepared testimony, and it appears that the vaccine expert will not be treading lightly in his criticism of the administration’s response so far to the pandemic and will be painting a bleak picture of the future if the federal government doesn’t begin the rapid development of a nationally coordinated plan to combat the disease.
Breaking via Axios: Dr. Rick Bright is expected to testify that the Trump admin was unprepared for the coronavirus, and that the U.S. could face the "darkest winter in modern history" if it doesn't develop a national coordinated response.https://t.co/qhSSfvYrvN
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 13, 2020
Dr. Bright plans on telling Congress that his warnings to senior officials at the HHS Department about a looming shortage of medical supplies were ignored from his first alerts in January until the end of March.
After urging the agency to ramp up production of masks, respirators, and medical supplies, his warnings were dismissed and he was “cut out of key high-level meetings to combat COVID-19,” Dr. Bright claims.
While he knows that “for now, we need to focus on getting things right going forward,” he still feels it important to point out the lapses that occurred during the initial phases of the pandemic when Health and Human Services officials “missed early warning signals” and “forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook.”
Dr. Bright also plans on detailing the political pressure he faced to drop his objection to the use of the drugs that Trump was early on promoting as miracle cures for COVID-19 despite the lack of evidence for their efficacy and safety. His fears were well-founded, as proven earlier this month when the FDA issued a warning to doctors about the potentially life-threatening side effects of using the antimalarial drug in coronavirus cases.
It is Dr. Bright’s warnings of a bleak prognosis for the future if the Trump administration does not get its act together that should garner the most attention in tomorrow’s planned testimony if his prepared statement is any indication.
“I continue to believe that we must act urgently to effectively combat this deadly disease. Our window of opportunity is closing. 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.”
The vaccine expert’s dire warning of a rapidly shrinking time frame in which to act — combined with the denialism emanating from the White House — puts the onus for action on both Congress and the already overburdened and financially suffering state governments which, unlike the federal government, can’t simply mint money to address the crisis.
Dr. Bright will not be unprepared to offer prescriptive solutions to the problems to which he is starkly calling attention.
He will strongly urge Congress to push for a national strategy to fight the pandemic, emphasizing “tests that are accurate, rapid, easy to use, low cost, and available to everyone who needs them,” contradicting the president’s deceptive and deluded fantasies that these goals have already been achieved.
Still, it is the vaccine specialist’s Game of Thrones-like prophecy about the winter ahead if the nation continues with the Trump administration’s bumbling and inept response to the crisis that will likely resonate the most with a nation in the throes of anxiety over the future.
“Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.”
Hopefully, Dr. Bright’s dark warning will inspire Congress to act expeditiously to force the administration to take action with any leverage that they may have.
With a president still so self-centered that his own re-election takes precedence over the health and safety of the nation, however, it may make sense for everyone to prepare for the bleakest winter in modern times.
Original reporting by Fadel Allassan at Axios.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.