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Health & Fitness Ousted vaccine chief says federal government has no coronavirus plan

03:30  15 may  2020
03:30  15 may  2020 Source:   bostonglobe.com

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Live: Ousted vaccine chief testifies on Capitol Hill24/7 coverage of breaking news and live On the strategic national stockpile, Bright said that the government has "known for quite some time that Rick Bright, the ousted director of the federal agency tasked with developing a vaccine for the novel

Dr. Bright has said he was removed from BARDA and reassigned to a narrower job at the National He told lawmakers that he had pressed federal officials early on to stockpile remdesivir, a drug that has proved Fishing is its lifeblood, but many residents wonder how many coronavirus cases it can

a man in a suit using a computer: Dr. Richard Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, testifie dduring a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Thursday in Washington. © Pool Dr. Richard Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, testifie dduring a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Thursday in Washington.

WASHINGTON — The nation’s former top vaccine official warned Thursday that dysfunction in the federal government may lead to the “darkest winter in history” if the Trump administration does not quickly implement a comprehensive plan to combat coronavirus.

"The window is closing to address this pandemic because we still do not have a standard, centralized, coordinated plan to take this nation through this response,” said Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, who was removed from his post last month and has filed a whistle-blower complaint.

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Testifying at a House hearing, Bright also questioned the 12-18 month timeline for a coronavirus vaccine proposed by the Trump administration. He noted that vaccines can take up to 10 years to develop.

Video: Ousted HHS official warns of 'darkest winter in modern history' if proper virus steps not taken (FOX News)

“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,” he said. “So, it’s still going to take some time.”

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Bright’s testimony painted a bleak picture of a federal government that failed to adequately prepare for the pandemic and is still missing opportunities to obtain materials necessary for mass distribution of a vaccine and protecting health care workers ahead of a possible resurgence of cases in the fall. He also warned that the administration lacked a plan to “to fairly and equitably distribute” the only drug shown to effectively treat coronavirus thus far, remdesivir.

“We don’t have a single point of leadership right now for this response and we don’t have a master plan for this response,” Bright said. President Trump blasted Bright to reporters at the White House. “I watched this guy for a little while this morning,” he said. “I’ll tell you what, to me he’s nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person.” The president said he had done “a great job” in responding to the pandemic.

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Dr. Rick Bright, the federal official who was allegedly ousted while leading coronavirus vaccine development, reportedly plans to warn Congress that the United States is on the precipice of the "darkest winter in modern history."Bright, who filed a whistleblower complaint after he was removed.

They began performing coronavirus tests, without government approval. The coronavirus had already established itself on American soil without anybody realizing it. Federal and state officials said the flu study could not be repurposed because it did not have explicit permission from research

  U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he boards Air Force One to fly back to Washington after visiting medical equipment distributor Owens & Minor's warehouse during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria © Thomson Reuters U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he boards Air Force One to fly back to Washington after visiting medical equipment distributor Owens & Minor's warehouse during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria But Bright testified that his repeated warnings to stock up on masks and other crucial supplies to battle the virus were met with “indifference” and “excuses” when he began sounding the alarm about the virus in mid-January. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield ignored his request for virus samples from China in January, slowing the development of treatments and vaccines.

Bright was reassigned to a smaller role in the government after he and other government scientists were pressured to make the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine widely available for sale in pharmacies in New York and New Jersey in late March, even though it was not proven safe or effective to treat coronavirus. After Bright’s resistance to that push, he was given a less important role in the National Institutes of Health in April. Trump again touted the supposed benefits of hydroxychloroquine on Thursday, which studies have not shown to be effective in treating the virus.

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“We have the world’s greatest scientists, let us lead,” Bright testified to the room full of masked lawmakers on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, flanked by a bottle of Lysol wipes. “Let us speak without fear of retribution.”

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Some Republicans on the panel asked why Bright did not go to the Health and Human Services Department inspector general or bring his concerns to Congress earlier, while others questioned why he did not personally raise concerns about the lack of adequate masks before January. (That inspector general has been ordered replaced after angering Trump with a report on mask shortages.)

The soft-spoken Bright defended himself calmly, and revealed he was being treated for high blood pressure due to the stress of losing his job and becoming a whistle-blower. Later, mask manufacturer Mike Bowen, who testified after Bright about the US mask shortage problem, defended the doctor.

“I’m a Republican. I voted for President Trump and I admire Dr. Bright,” Bowen testified. “I believe him.” Bright said his lowest moment over the past few months was when Bowen, executive vice president of Prestige Ameritech in Texas, contacted him over email in January to warn that the US N95 mask supply was “decimated" as the virus began traveling the globe.

Protective Face Mask on a Blue wood  Background © Getty Protective Face Mask on a Blue wood Background “He said, ‘We are in deep shit,’ ” Bright said. The immunologist told HHS leadership of his concerns about the masks but “got no response.” “I knew that we were going to have a crisis for our health care workers because we were not taking action,” Bright recalled. “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.”

He testified that he finally found a sympathetic ear in the White House in the form of trade adviser Peter Navarro, who distributed a memo urging the government to produce more masks in February after speaking with Bright. But orders for protective equipment were still not placed until March, he said.

Bright acknowledged that the US death toll of 84,000 as of Thursday would likely be lower if scientists’ warnings were heeded. “Initially our nation was not as prepared as we should have been, as we could have been," he said. "Some scientists that raised early warning signals were overlooked.”

Doctor holding Hydroxychloroquine drug © Getty Doctor holding Hydroxychloroquine drug The administration pushed back on Bright’s claim that he was demoted in retaliation for his objection to widely distributing hydroxychloroquine, saying in a statement that he was transferred to lead “a bold new $1 billion testing program at NIH, critical to saving lives and reopening America.” But the federal whistle-blower agency made a preliminary determination this month that there was a “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” in Bright’s reassignment.

“Rick Bright’s assumption that others were not concerned with and working on various workstreams related to COVID-19 preparedness is bizarre and false,” HHS said in a statement.

Bowen testified later on Thursday that his offer to make millions more N95 masks at his Texas factory in January was rejected. “I’m angry because I’ve done this for so long and I’ve been ignored for so long,” he said. “We could have protected America’s health care workers and patients."

Stay at home as much as possible to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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