The United States could face its “darkest winter in modern history” because of the coronavirus, a former top US health official has told Congress.
Rick Bright was removed from his post last month after he had led the government agency trying to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
According to allegations made by Bright, he was sacked from his position because he had refused to promote an untested drug treatment which was touted by US president Donald Trump to be a “game changer”. Trump had claimed the Bright was a “disgruntled” employee.
Government “inaction” in the early stages of the outbreak was responsible for the loss of lives in the US, Bright also told the House of Representatives subcommittee on health. An alarm about a medical equipment shortage was first raised by Bright in January and he had intimated the “highest levels” of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) , he told the OCngress. But he received “no response”.
The “window of opportunity” for the US to fight and address the coronavirus pandemic was “closing”, Bright warned during his testimony.
“If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged,” he said. “Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”
An e-mail that he would “never forget” was received by Bright in January, he also told the subcommittee. That e-mail was from a supplier of medical-grade face masks who issued a warning of a severe shortage.
“He said… we need to act. And I pushed that forward to the highest level that I could of HHS – and got no response.”
According to Bright, he was removed from his post by the Trump administration because he had insisted that the money allocated by Congress for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic should be put “into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit”.
“I spoke out then, and I am testifying today, because science – not politics or cronyism – must lead the way to combat this deadly virus,” he said.
Political reasons were behind the removal of Bright from his post as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda), claimed a whistleblower complaint that was filed earlier this month.
He had refused to promote the drugs hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as potential cures for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic which resulted in his ouster, Bright said.
Despite many experts cautioning that it could be ineffective or even dangerous, Trump had insisted that hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, was a possible “game-changer” in the treatment of Covid-19.
There were no benefits of the hydroxychloroquine drug for the people taking it and using the drug could actually raise the risk of death for patients in US veterans hospitals, suggested a research conducted by the Veterans Health Administration in the US which has been submitted for expert review.
Because government officials “refused to listen” to his warnings, he was forced to speak to a journalist about the issue, alleges Bright’s complaint. He further said that he left it was an obligation for him to try and protect the public “from drugs which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety”.
After the hearing, President Trump told reporters: “I don’t know him. 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.”
(Adapted from BBC.com)