Health and Science

Ousted HHS official warns pandemic could get far worse: '2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history' without coordinated coronavirus plan

Key Points
  • An ousted federal vaccine scientist plans to warn Congress on Thursday of the "darkest winter in modern history" without a more coordinated U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Dr. Rick Bright was removed last month as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
  • The Office of Special Counsel has found evidence to support Bright's claims, the government watchdog said last week.
Rick Bright, deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response for Health and Human Services (HHS), speaks during a House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, March 8, 2018.
Toya Sarno Jordan | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Covid-19 has the potential to eclipse the 1918 flu pandemic that killed more than 50 million people and could make 2020 the "darkest winter in modern history" if U.S. leaders can't mount a more coordinated response to contain the outbreak, according to ousted federal vaccine scientist Dr. Rick Bright. 

"We face a highly-transmissible and deadly virus which not only claims lives but is also disrupting the very foundations of our societies," Bright says in written testimony to be delivered to a House health subcommittee Thursday. Bright  filed a whistleblower complaint after he was removed last month as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The agency, which falls under the Department of Health and Human Services, is a key player in the nation's coronavirus pandemic.

"HHS leadership was dismissive about my dire predictions about what I assumed would be a broader outbreak and the pressing need to act, and were therefore unwilling to act with the urgency that the situation required," he said. "Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities."

He said there is an "undeniable fact" that Covid-19 will resurge in the fall. He said he was removed from his post because he insisted that funding go toward scientifically proven solutions to the pandemic rather than "drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit." 

"Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history," Bright plans to tell members of Congress, according to his prepared remarks obtained by CNBC. "If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities."

Bright reiterated that he was removed from his position because he "resisted efforts to promote and enable broad access" to chloroquine, which was touted by President Donald Trump as a promising treatment against Covid-19 before clinical trials were completed. The Food and Drug Administration as well as researchers have since urged caution in using the drug, which has shown signs of exacerbating health issues.

The Office of Special Counsel has found evidence to support Bright's claims, the government watchdog said last week.

"While my intention in testifying today is to be forward looking, I spoke out then and I am testifying today because science – not politics or cronyism – must lead the way to combat this deadly virus," Bright said. "My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this – to confront and defeat a deadly virus like COVID-19 that threatens Americans and people around the globe."

Bright will go on to tell Congress that the U.S. "missed early warning signals and we forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook." And he will warn Congress that "if we ignore the science, we stand a dramatically increased risk of worsening the spread of the virus in the coming months."

He emphasized the need to increase public education on how individuals can curb the spread of the virus, ramp up production of essential equipment such as masks and medical gowns and eliminate state competition for such supplies. He also plans to tell Congress the U.S. needs a "national testing strategy."

"The virus is out there, it's everywhere," he plans to say. "We need to be able to find it, to isolate it and to stop it from infecting more people."

— CNBC's Dan Mangan contributed to this report.

VIDEO7:1407:14
Gottlieb: I would take what whistleblower Rick Bright says seriously