Trump administration ignored coronavirus warnings and played down threat

6 May 2020, 07:56

The former top vaccine official claims he was sidelined
The former top vaccine official claims he was sidelined. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Donald Trump's administration did not prepare for the coronavirus crisis then looked for a quick fix by trying to rush a new drug to patients, a senior Government scientist has claimed.

A former top vaccine official has alleged he was reassigned to a less prestigious role because he tried to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency” and raised health concerns over a drug repeatedly pushed by President Trump as a possible cure for coronavirus.

Bright claims the Trump administration planned to "flood" hot spots in New York and New Jersey with the drug, the revelations come in a whistleblower complaint.

“Dr Bright acted with urgency to begin to address this pandemic but encountered resistance from HHS (Health and Human Services) leadership, including Secretary Azar, who appeared intent on downplaying this catastrophic threat,” reads the complaint, which his lawyers filed with the US Office of Special Counsel.

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"I witnessed government leadership rushing blindly into a potentially dangerous situation by bringing in a non-FDA (Food and Drink Administration) approved chloroquine from Pakistan and India, from facilities that had never been approved by the FDA," Dr Bright said.

"Their eagerness to push blindly forward without sufficient data to put this drug into the hands of Americans was alarming to me and my fellow scientists," he said in the complaint.

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He filed the allegations with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that investigates retaliation against federal employees who uncover problems. He wants his job back and a full investigation.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a terse statement saying Dr Bright was transferred to the National Institutes of Health to work on coronavirus testing, a crucial assignment.

"We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work on behalf of the American people and lead on this critical endeavour," HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said.

According to HHS, Dr Bright has not reported to his new post. His spokeswoman said he is on sick leave, following doctor's orders, and that HHS has provided him no details on his new role.

Dr Bright's complaint comes as the Trump administration faces criticism over its response to the pandemic, including testing and supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment to stem the spread.

There have been nearly 1.2 million confirmed cases in the US and more than 70,000 deaths.

Dr Bright said his superiors repeatedly rejected his warnings that the virus would spread in the US, missing an early opportunity to stock up on protective masks for first responders.

He said he "acted with urgency" to address the growing spread of Covid-19 - the disease the virus causes - after the World Health Organisation issued a warning in January.

Anna Eshoo, chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, said she plans to hold a hearing into his complaint next week, and Dr Bright's lawyers said he would give evidence.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, appearing on MSNBC, called the complaint "very damaging".