Coronavirus whistleblower Rick Bright testifies
Ousted vaccine director and whistleblower Rick Bright testified for more than three hours before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's health subcommittee.
Bright slammed the Trump administration’s coronavirus response and urged lawmakers to listen to the voices of scientists to prevent “unprecedented illness and fatalities."
If you’re just tuning in, here are four key points Bright made in his testimony today:
- Bright's warnings about supply shortages were ignored multiple times: Bright said he began to get alerts that the supply chain for masks and other personal protective equipment was “diminishing rapidly” back in January. But when he forwarded the alerts to leadership in the US Department of Health and Human Services, as well as with national infrastructure and stockpile teams, Bright said they were “met with indifference.”
- "There were some attempts to bypass" a vetting process for hydroxychloroquine: Bright said the Trump administration rushed out recommendations about the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus. Asked about attempts to rely on politics rather than science in the response to the pandemic, Bright said: “There were some attempts to bypass that rigorous vetting process that caused me great concern.”
- Bright called for a coordinated strategy to combat the pandemic: Bright said there is still no “master coordinated plan” and noted that a “comprehensive strategy” was needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic that included widespread testing, tracing and ongoing efforts to “develop a cure.” According to Bright, the Trump administration did not take “critical steps” in time to combat the virus.
- He cast doubt on the 12- to 18-month timeline for a vaccine: Bright called the White House’s vaccine timeline an "aggressive schedule” and warned that if the administration rushed too quickly to get out a vaccine, the country may not have a full assessment of the safety of a vaccine.
Rick Bright said that there still aren’t enough coronavirus tests when pressed about miscommunication from the Trump administration by Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell.
Rep. Dingell: "So, even this week, as we’re being told, ‘Anybody who wants a test, can have a test,’ is that true in the United States of America?"
President Trump has repeatedly stated that the anyone who wants a test can get one, despite experts saying otherwise.
Bright also said that it is “unlikely” that a vaccine for the coronavirus will be available within the next few months.
Watch the full exchange:
Rick Bright told lawmakers that he will turn over documents to Congress related to his whistleblower complaint following his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.
He confirmed to subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo that once personal information is removed from his documents, he will make them available to the committee. Eshoo added that, per normal protocol, the documents would be shared with both majority and minority members of the committee.
Bright’s comments came after Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, repeatedly asked Bright and his counsel to turn over documents related to Bright's whistleblower complaint.
"We have partial email chains, we have screenshots of emails. I think we should have the right to see those documents if we're going to effectively know the full extent of this complaint," Walden said.
Walden later pleaded with Eshoo: "Madam Chair you should request them."
"We will seek all information that's appropriate to be submitted to the committee. And what I circulated or we circulated to all members of the subcommittee were the emails that were public, as well as the complaint," Eshoo answered.
"But in any other, you know, any other investigation we'd both be going say we need to see all the documents as a committee, so that's all I'm after," Walden responded.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican from Oklahoma, grilled ousted vaccine director Rick Bright on his current job position, and questioned why he needs medical leave for his hypertension now, although he did not have issues with hypertension while he served as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
Mullin also questioned which department is currently paying Bright’s salary.
Here’s the exchange:
Mullin: "But if you’ve been on medical leave you are too sick to do that but you can prepare for a two hour hearing. I am having a hard time tracking it and understanding it. If you have hypertension and you are too sick to go to NIH but you did not experience that at Barta, right? You never had issues in Barta with hypertension?"
Bright: "I didn’t have the level of stress from being removed from my position. This has been very stressful."
Mullin: "I get that people handle pressure differently. You are in quite a stressful position when you are trying to manage pandemic but you can't manage that, well you could manage that, but you can't manage your own hypertension because you got removed from the office but yet you can still receiving pay from NIH, but you can’t show up for work, and then also you can prepare for this but you can't do that.”
Bright later confirmed to subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo that he is on accrued vacation leave today.
Some context: HHS issued a statement today saying in part, “Mr. Bright has not yet shown up for work, but continues to collect his $285,010 salary, while using his taxpayer-funded medical leave to work with partisan attorneys who are politicizing the response to COVID-19.”
Ousted vaccine director Rick Bright urged House members to make sure science — not politics — takes precedence in the US coronavirus response.
“We need to unleash the voices of the scientists in our public health system in the United States so they can be heard and their guidances need to be listened to,” Bright said.
Bright also noted that the information of scientists must be conveyed to the America public so "they have the truth about the real risk and dire consequences of this virus."
Bright, now a senior advisor with the National Institutes of Health, said he was forced out of his Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority job last month for political reasons.
The Trump administration rushed out recommendations about the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, Rick Bright, the ousted director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said during today's hearing.
Asked about attempts to rely on politics rather than science in the response to the pandemic, Bright said: “There were some attempts to bypass that rigorous vetting process that caused me great concern.”
Speaking to the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Bright said, “We have a very rigorous scientific review process for all the investments that we make for the drugs, vaccines and diagnostics through BARDA and through our department.”
Bright said “without that scientific vetting, that does increase the risk of a drug being evaluated or supported, that could have safety concerns. And we really needed to have the best scientists in our country weigh in on whether or not that drug should be evaluated and how it should be evaluated to address those safety concerns.”
Remember: Last week, Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he was removed from his post in retaliation for opposing the broad use of hydroxychloroquine.
Rick Bright said he began to get alerts that the supply chain for masks and other personal protective equipment was “diminishing rapidly” back in January. But when he forwarded the alerts to leadership in the US Department of Health and Human Services, as well as with national infrastructure and stockpile teams, he said they were ignored.
“I was met with indifference, saying they were either too busy, they didn't have a plan, they didn't know who was responsible for procuring those. … A number of excuses. But never any action,” he said in his testimony.
Bright said that in a meeting on Feb. 7, HHS leadership said they did not believe there would be a shortage of N95 masks. “My response was, ‘I cannot believe you can sit and say that with a straight face.’ It was absurd,” he said.
The supply shortages caused needless deaths, according to Bright, and continue to put health care workers in harm’s way.
“Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost. Not only that, we were forced to procure the supplies from other countries without the right quality standards, so even our doctors and nurses in the hospitals today are wearing N95-marked masks from other countries that are not providing the sufficient protection that a US-standard N95 mask would provide them,” Bright said.
He said experts have known since 2007 that the US would have a shortage of respirators in case of a pandemic.
Rick Bright said there appears to be "no master coordinated plan" on how the US is responding to coronavirus.
Rep. G. K. Butterfield asked Rick Bright about the US's supply shortages, which has included a lack of simple supplies like swabs.
"How could we be struggling to get adequate supplies of simple supplies like swabs? What does this say about the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak?" Butterfield asked.
Here's how Bright responded:
"It says to me, sir, that there is no master coordinated plan on how to respond to this outbreak."
Rick Bright told House members that the lack of a plan and strategy in the US on how to make and administer a potential vaccine for coronavirus is a “significant concern.”
“There's no one company that can produce enough for our country or for the world,” Bright told members. “We need to have a strategy and plan in place now to make sure that we can not only fill that vaccine, make it, distribute it, administer it in a fair and equitable plan.”
“We don't have that yet and it is a significant concern,” he said.
When asked by Rep. Frank Pallone if Bright thought the supply issues the US has seen with testing and the drug remdesivir could also happen with vaccines, the doctor answered, “Absolutely, sir.”