May 13, 2020 - Health

Ousted vaccine chief to warn "window of opportunity is closing" for virus response

Senate Health committee testimony
Senate Health Committee hears virtual testimony on May 12. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A top vaccine doctor who was ousted from his position in April is expected to testify Thursday that the Trump administration 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, according to prepared testimony first obtained by CNN.

The big picture: Rick Bright, the former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), will tell Congress that leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services ignored his warnings in January, February and March about a potential shortage of medical supplies.

  • He will testify that HHS "missed early warning signals" and "forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook" early on — but that "for now, we need to focus on getting things right going forward."
  • Bright's testimony also reiterates claims from a whistleblower report he filed last week that alleges he was ousted over his attempts to limit the use of hydroxychloroquine — an unproven drug touted by President Trump — to treat the coronavirus.

What he's saying: Bright will testify he urged HHS to ramp up production of
masks, respirators and medical supplies as far back as January. Those warnings were dismissed, Bright says, and he was "cut out of key high-level meetings to combat COVID-19."

  • "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."

Bright will call for a national strategy to combat the virus, including "tests that are accurate, rapid, easy to use, low cost, and available to everyone who needs them."

  • "Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history."

Read Bright's prepared statement.

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