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Last week, the New York Times reported on a complaint filed by Dr. Richard Bright — who led the government’s efforts to find a coronavirus vaccine up until his removal from the project — detailing a profound level of mismanagement in the Trump administration’s early response to the outbreak. Following his report, which included the decision to ignore his advice to stockpile N95 masks, the House Energy and Commerce Committee brought him in to testify on the White House’s failure to act and the dangers still facing the country. Below are the key moments from his appearance before the committee on Thursday.
Bright warned we may be facing the “darkest winter in modern history”
At the beginning of the year, Bright was a program leader at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, advising the Department of Health and Human Services on vaccines and pandemic prevention. But as he warned that the administration’s response was inadequate, and cast doubt on the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine — the anti-malarial drug touted by Trump — he was removed from his position and reassigned to the National Institutes of Health.
On Thursday, he warned lawmakers that “without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”
“We need to have the right testing for everyone who needs it,” he told the House subcommittee. “We need to be able to trace contacts, isolate, quarantine, and appropriately — while striving to develop a cure. “
Bright claimed that “lives were lost” because of the administration’s inaction
Bright told lawmakers that stalling within the Department of Health and Human Services “put a lot of lives at risk in our front-line health-care workers,” some of whom were still protesting for adequate PPE in May.
“Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost,” Bright said, claiming that senior HHS officials told him that they did not believe there was a “critical shortage” of supplies in the pandemic’s early days. “And not only that: We were forced to procure these supplies from other countries without the right quality standards. So even our doctors and nurses in the hospitals today are wearing N95-marked masks from other countries that are not providing the sufficient protection that a U.S.-standard N95 mask would provide them. Some of those masks are only 30 percent effective. Therefore, nurses are rushing in the hospitals thinking they’re protected, and they’re not.”
Bright stated that there is still no “master plan”
Warning that Trump’s decision to treat the pandemic as a political crisis rather than as a generational public-health event has undermined the administration’s response. “We don’t have a single point of leadership right now for this response, and we don’t have a master plan for this response,” Bright said. “So those two things are absolutely critical.”
Bright was skeptical of Trump’s hope of a vaccine in 2020
On Thursday, prior to the testimony, the president said, “I think we’re going to have a vaccine by the end of the year.” While more-informed officials like Dr. Fauci project a 12- to 18-month timeline for a potential vaccine, Bright cast doubt on that development, as well, which he described as an “aggressive schedule.”
Bright claimed Trump tried to skip the vetting process for his preferred drug
According to Bright, “there were some attempts to bypass” the standard process to prove hydroxychloroquine was effective and safe for use to treat COVID-19; Trump consistently mentioned the anti-malarial drug in press briefings before studies proved it to be ineffective. Studies have since shown that the drug causes coronavirus patients to experience an increased risk of heart attack.
Despite Trump’s abandonment of the drug and the emerging consensus of its harm for coronavirus patients, Republicans on the committee continued to promote it:
Trump attacked Bright before his testimony
Maintaining his tradition of insulting officials who described his administration in a critical light, Trump called Bright a “disgruntled employee” that he’s never “even heard of.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar added his critique, saying that Bright — who has been on leave managing his “very high blood pressure” — is “not showing up for work” to help the administration launch Operation Warp Speed, the curiously named push for a vaccine.