Washington, May 14 (efe-epa).- The United States will suffer from a scarcity of Covid-19 vaccine if measures are not taken immediately to increase the country’s capacity to produce it if one becomes available, Dr. Rick Bright, who was fired last month from his post as the head of the entity tasked with developing a vaccine against the coronavirus, warned on Thursday.
Bright testified before a House of Representatives committee and warned that the Donald Trump administration lacks a “standard, centralized, coordinated plan” to manufacture tens of millions of doses of any prospective vaccine.
He said that there is no US company that can produce enough doses of a vaccine for this country or for the world, adding that the authorities need to develop a strategy right now to ensure that not only will work on a vaccine proceed quickly but also that it can be produced and distributed fairly.
Bright was abruptly fired in April by the administration from the top spot within the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an organization within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and which, among other things, is supervising research into a Covid-19 vaccine.
He said he believed he was transferred to another position with less responsibility at the National Institutes of Health after he resisted the administration’s efforts to increase access to hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug Trump has strenuously promoted as a possible treatment for Covid-19 but for which no hard evidence of its value exists.
Bright subsequently filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he was ousted from the HHS in retaliation for his views.
In his congressional testimony on Thursday, Bright warned that the Covid-19 pandemic could be worse than the devastating 1918 flu outbreak, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide.
This year, he said, the US could experience the “darkest winter in modern history” if the country’s leaders fail to undertake a more coordinated response to contain the pandemic.
“Our window of opportunity is closing,” Bright said. “Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”
Bright also said that the Trump administration’s goal of turning out a vaccine in 12-18 months is overly optimistic, calling it “an aggressive schedule” and noting that it usually takes up to 10 years to make a vaccine. “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, adding “So, it’s still going to take some time.”
He also said that it will not be possible to return to the “normal” state of affairs preceding the pandemic, arguing that caution must be maintained to avoid an “unlimited” number of Covid-19 deaths.
Bright’s appearance on Capitol Hill on Thursday sparked heated controversy in the US, where arch-conservatives see him as a traitor to Trump and the left considers him to be a hero.
On Thursday, Trump lashed out at Bright, tweeting: “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!” Trump wrote.
At the same time, HHS said in a statement that “His whistleblower complaint is filled with one-sided arguments and misinformation. HHS is reviewing the complaint and strongly disagrees with the allegations and characterizations made by Rick Bright.”
Although Bright initially wore a facemask into the hearing room, he removed it during his testimony, although he did wear rubber gloves.
“First and foremost, we need to be truthful with the American people” he said. “The truth must be based on science.”
Before he was reassigned, Bright had received an “outstanding” performance review at HHS.
The US continues to be the worldwide epicenter of the pandemic in absolute terms with almost 1.4 million confirmed cases so far and at least 84,000 deaths, according to the ongoing tally being kept by The Johns Hopkins University.