WASHINGTON (CN) — Rick Bright, the former head of the federal agency tasked with developing a Covid-19 vaccine, is expected to testify Thursday that the U.S. could see its “darkest winter in modern history” without a stronger response to the pandemic.
“While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of the Covid-19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system,” he is expected to tell lawmakers. “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.”
He is expected to emphasize the need to act urgently to fight the 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 testimony states.
In the first three months of the year, Bright, then the leader of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, pushed the Department of Health and Human Services to get more syringes, swabs, respirators and other necessary equipment to combat the coronavirus outbreak. In response, he says he wasn’t included in high-level meetings on Covid-19.
When he finally raised his concerns to members of Congress and senior White House officials, he claims he was ostracized by HHS officials. Bright says he was forced out of his position after he questioned the Trump administration’s promotion of an antimalarial drug for treatment of the respiratory disease.
“When I resisted efforts to promote and enable broad access to an unproven drug, chloroquine, to the American people without transparent information on the potential health risks, I was removed from BARDA,” Bright is expected to testify Thursday, echoing statements he made last month.
Bright says he was “involuntarily transferred” to a role that held far fewer responsibilities at the National Institutes of Health after raising concerns about the drug that President Donald Trump said, without evidence, could be a “game changer.”
An NIH study released last month found that a related antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, did not help patients hospitalized with Covid-19 and those given the drug actually died at a higher rate than those without the treatment.
Bright’s written testimony emphasizes being truthful with the American public, so officials can listen and “take the most powerful steps to save lives.”
“Truth, no matter how unpleasant decreases the fear generated by uncertainty,” the testimony states. “The truth must be based on scientific evidence – and not filtered for political reasons. We must know and appreciate what we are up against. We have the world’s greatest scientists — they must be permitted to lead.”
Touching on testimony Wednesday from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that rushing back to normality in the face of a global pandemic would only harm the recovery, Bright agreed that reopening too soon could lead to more lives lost.
“Most Americans want the same thing — a return to normal,” he is expected to tell lawmakers. “The normal of 2019 is not going to return, but we all have an opportunity to shape the new normal of 2020 and beyond. With the participation and cooperation of every American, this can be achieved.”
That cooperation hinges on an increase in public education on the basics of handwashing, social distancing and face coverings, and the increased production of essential safety equipment. Other issues that Bright believes need to be addressed include an equal distribution of supplies to eliminate competition between states.
A national testing strategy is also paramount to controlling the virus’ spread, Bright is expected to say Thursday. Officials missed early warning signs and “forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook,” according to the testimony.
“We need to ensure that we have a plan to recovery and that everyone knows the plan and everyone participates in the plan,” the testimony states. “Congress has taken important steps to support the response; and we have more to do.”