Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), testified before Congress on Thursday and painted a bleak picture about the administration’s coronavirus response and the potential of a vaccine in a short time line.
Bright spoke about many missed opportunities by the Trump administration in the early days of the pandemic. “I believe we could have done better,” he said to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. “I believe there were critical steps we did not take in time.”
Notably, Bright quoted medical supplier Mike Bowen, who sent Bright an email in January that talked about the “completely decimated” supply of N95 respirators to protect health-care workers, adding that the government refused to ramp up production: “We are in deep shit, the world is,” Bowen, a co-owner of mask manufacturer Prestige Ameritech, warned.
Bright said that he “pushed that [warning] forward to the highest levels” of officials at Health and Human Services but that he received “no response” or was given “excuses.”
“We were already behind the ball,” he said. “That was our last window of opportunity to turn on that production to save the lives of those health-care workers, and we didn’t act.”
Ousted vaccine official Dr. Bright:
“I’ll never forget the emails I received from (mask maker) Mike Bowen indicating that our [mask supply] was completely decimated. And he said, ‘We’re in deep shit. The world is. And we need to act’ … That was our last window of opportunity.” pic.twitter.com/yg1fse6ROQ
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) May 14, 2020
Bright also told Congress that having an effective COVID-19 vaccine in 18 months is unlikely, pointing out it took five years to create an Ebola vaccine. “A lot of optimism is swirling around a 12-to-18-month timeframe if everything goes perfectly. We’ve never seen everything go perfectly,” he said. “I still think 12 to 18 months is an aggressive schedule, and I think it’s going to take longer than that to do so.”
And even if a vaccine were available on that short time line, Bright said it might not be safe. “My concern is if we rush too quickly and consider cutting out critical steps, we may not have a full assessment of the safety of that vaccine, so it’s still going to take some time,” he said.
Bright, who was ousted from his position at BARDA after he opposed the president’s endorsement of chloroquine to treat the coronavirus, filed a whistleblower complaint. He is now seeking to be reinstated to his position. “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,” he told the subcommittee.
The president tried to get ahead of Bright’s testimony with an early morning tweet labeling him as a “disgruntled employee.” Trump wrote, “I don’t know the so-called Whistleblower Rick Bright, never met him or even heard of him, but to me he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer be working for our government!”
In his testimony, Bright cautioned that as the pandemic continues to spread, a lack of swift and decisive action by the government will have dire consequences. “Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright said. “Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”