Former BARDA scientist said the U.S. lacks a plan to end the virus.
Rick Bright, formerly the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has alleged the U.S. remains without a all-inclusive plan to battle the coronavirus. He warned before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “Despite White House claims, the U.S. still lacks a comprehensive battle plan against the coronavirus in critical areas including masks, testing, treatments and vaccines. Our window of opportunity is closing. The nation could face the darkest winter in modern history if the virus rebounds.”
Bright was terminated from the Health and Human Services (HHS) biodefense agency last month, which he believes was a move of retaliation. He said he was removed after warning higher-ups the virus outbreak was going to be worse than the public has been made to believe. He then opposed President Donald Trump’s decision to allow widespread access to hydroxychloroquine.
“We need still a comprehensive plan, and everyone across the government and everyone in America needs to know what that plan is, and what role they play,” he explained to the committee. “There are critical steps that we need to do to prepare. We do not still have enough personal protective equipment to manage our health care workers. We still do not have the supply chains ramped up for the drugs and vaccines, and we still don’t have plans in place for how we distribute those drugs and vaccines. We still do not have a comprehensive testing strategy.”
President Trump responded at a Pennsylvania medical equipment distributor that the “U.S. is ramping up production of COVID-19-related items” and that his plan “is to produce everything America needs for ourselves, and then export to the world, including medicines.”
Bright countered he realizes there have been significant steps taken to respond to the coronavirus. His concern is that there is not a cohesive strategy that details how each of these steps will work together to eliminate it. He feels there needs to be a way of showing how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together and help each other. For one, Bright believes decisions-makers need a method of getting supplies and medications to where they’re needed to protect people while preventing item shortages and price gouging.
“I think we have a lot of work to do to be prepared,” Bright said. He added that he is concerned Americans will face accessibility issues when trying to get the vaccine once it hits the market.
Bright claimed he tried to put into action a plan to mass produce respirator masks early on without success. He had received emails in January from Mike Bowen, an executive at the medical supply company Prestige Ameritech warning that the N95 mask supply was “completely decimated.” Bright explained, “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. From that moment I knew that we were going to have a crisis for our health care workers because we were not taking action.”
HHS, Bright’s employer, has claimed it “strongly disagrees with his allegations” and said is reassigned him “to a high-profile position helping to lead the development of new coronavirus tests at the National Institutes of Health.”