May 14, 2020 - Health

Trump, Azar attack ousted vaccine doctor as "disgruntled employee"

President Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar lashed out at ousted health official Rick Bright as he testified before Congress Thursday, dismissing his allegations about the administration ignoring his warnings about the pandemic as those of a "disgruntled employee."

Why it matters: Bright, who led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until April, testified to a House panel that he was cut out of meetings by HHS leadership and was told his repeated warnings in January and February were "causing a commotion."

  • Email chains show Bright raised concerns about how the government's stockpile lacked critical supples like personal protective equipment as early as late January, before shortages on medical supplies became a huge problem in the U.S., according to a whistleblower complaint he filed.
  • "I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS and got no response," Bright testified. "And from that moment I knew that we were going to have a crisis for our health care workers because we were not taking action. We were already behind the ball."

What they're saying:

  • Trump: "To me, he is nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person. ... I don't know, I never met him, I don't want to meet him, but I watched him, and he looks like an angry, disgruntled employee who, frankly, according to some people, didn't do a very good job."
  • Azar: "Whose job was it to actually lead the development of vaccines? Dr. Bright. So while we're launching Operation Warp Speed, he's not showing up to work to be part of that. This is like somebody who was in a choir and is now trying to say he was a soloist back then. What he was saying is what every member of this administration and the president was saying."

Worth noting: Bright claims he was pushed out of his role because he resisted efforts by HHS leadership to promote the drug hydroxychloroquine. Azar told reporters Thursday: "On hydroxychloroquine, Dr. Bright literally signed the application for FDA authorization of it. Literally, he's the sponsor of it."

  • Asked about this during his testimony, Bright said that he supported the use of hydroxychloroquine under the supervision of a physician.
  • But when HHS leadership issued a directive to make the drug more broadly available, that's when Bright says he resisted: "I did not think it was the proper or safe way to evaluate that drug in the context of this outbreak."

Go deeper: Bright testifies government lacks plan to equitably distribute a vaccine

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