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Dr. Rick Bright Testifies Before House Health Subcommittee; Dr. Peter Hotez Discusses Rick Bright Testimony; Trump & HHS Secretary Azar Weigh in on Bright's Testimony. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 14, 2020 - 13:30   ET



REP. LISA BLUNT ROCHESTER (D-DE): Thank you Madame Chairwoman.

And thank you, Dr. Bright, so much for your testimony but also for your courage here today.

As you can hear from your colleagues, there's not a person in this room or in this country who hasn't been personally touched by COVID- 19.

And your statement that we need to be told the truth is probably the most important statement we've heard all day because we know that if we don't face it, we can't fix it.

So I want to personally thank you on behalf of all Americans for your courage to testify before us today.

And I want to say that my focus for this hearing is really on three things. Number one, what have we learned? Number two. what do we need to do now? And number three, what can we do to prevent or mitigate the risks of an additional wave of COVID-19?

It's clear since January of this year that there has been a failure on the part of the administration to use the scientific evidence that's been prevented by the nation's top public health officials to take comprehensive. And I'll use that word again, comprehensive, appropriate and urgent action to respond to COVID-19.

One of the most pressing, outstanding needs that has yet to be addressed is the need for a national testing strategy. Dr. Brighton, your testimony, you mentioned the need for such a strategy that ensures tests are, among other things, available to everyone who needs them. I, along with Congressmen Collin Peterson and Representative Vela from Texas wrote a letter to the Democratic and the Republican House leadership in the House and the Senate and we really impressed upon them the need for outlining the importance of a robust testing plan for our testing and tracing.

And while current testing capacity is 1.6 million diagnostic test per week, health care experts say that we're woefully short of the estimated 30 million tests per week that we need to get America back to work as safely and confidently as possible and to avert or mitigate a second wave of COVID-19 which is one of my biggest concerns. Dr. Bright, what are the immediate steps that HHS needs to be taking to ramp up testing capacity now through the fall and what targets should they be held accountable for?

BRIGHT: I think what's really interesting about the testing store that gets lost in the narrative sometimes is the confusion about the different types of tests. There's an antigen test that tells you if you have a virus and there's a PCR test that says that maybe (ph) there are fragments the virus and there's those antibody test that looks like your antibody titers are trying to tell you've been exposed already, maybe immune to that -- the virus.

There's a lot of confusion and I think the first thing HHS needs to do is determine which of those tests is most important to achieve which objective. If the antigen test is what's needed because it's faster in lower cost and more readily available in some cases, what does it tell Americans? What does it tell employers? What does it tell schools about the potential for an individual who has a positive or negative on a test and their potential to have different results the next day or later that day?

There's a lot of confusion about these tests. So, I think the first thing that HHS should do is determine the type of test and how that test would be used effectively. And then make sure that we have enough of those types of test and they're in the right place and the people using them, know what the data tell them, and how to use it effectively.

I think there's a lot of confusion there and they need leadership in HHS to distinguish those challenges and clarify that for the American public. It's not just a test. Many different tests, they tell you different things.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Thank you. Thank you. And why do you think that our nation has struggled with ramping up the testing capacity unlike other countries and where their contingencies in place or a backup in light of this situation we're in now?

BRIGHT: I think part of the struggle is waiting too late to think about it and to get it started. When we've had conversations with some manufacturers, they've been very creative in how they can ramp up. Another part of the challenges, we've allowed many of these capabilities to be offshore.

And so, we have much more capability of expanding domestic capacity when it's in our country and we can ramp up and bring innovation to those companies in the U.S. But if the supply chain is offshore and is a global need in competition for that supply chain, that also significantly impairs our ability to ramp up.

BLUNT ROCHESTER: Again, I just want to thank you so much for the time that you have contributed to our country, but also for your courage to be here right now. Many of us are challenged as Democrats and Republicans to make sure that our country is safe and healthy and it really is -- it really -- I don't think I've ever, in my lifetime, seen anything like this. [13:35]

And it does require us to look back and at the same time look forward and make sure that we have what we need as a country.

So, I thank you again and I yield back the balance of my time.

ESHOO: The gentlewoman yields back.

Does the minority reserve? All right. Then it's a pleasure to recognize the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Rush, for his five minutes of questions.

ESHOO: Do you have your microphone on?

RUSH: Yes, I have it on now.

ESHOO: Good. Now, I can hear you. OK.

RUSH: I want to thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

Dr. Bright, it's so good to see you. I've been watching you this morning and it just amazes me about your courage and your and your commitment and I'm just so delighted to be in the same room with you.

Your contributions are impressive and your reports on how the scientific process was pushed asked for short-term (inaudible) are extremely troublesome to me and to the American people. I'm sure (ph) -- I'm absolutely convinced that (inaudible) and the Chinese doctor, Dr. Li, the doctor who first raised the alarm over the coronavirus on China, you two are -- will be remembered as two (inaudible) of this pandemic.

You took the path (ph) that was right rather than the path that was easy. And I commend you for it. And (inaudible), Dr. Bright, it's been widely reported that President Obama's White House National Security Council (inaudible) detailed very thorough document on how to proceed to pandemic. Do you have any input in that playbook (ph)?

BRIGHT: Yes, sir, I did. There's a number of our agencies across the government had input in that playbook.

RUSH: And as far as you know, in any of those recommendation, (inaudible) in this administration?

BRIGHT: I believe some of those principles have been reviewed and considered but I think the playbook has changed in this outbreak. I don't think they follow that playbook.

RUSH: Thank you. I think it's critically important that we focus on the path forward. While we must learn from past and correct (inaudible) our response has to be forward thinking and forward moving and I am -- and I'm the sponsor of a bipartisan COVID-19 TRACE Act.

I have been working on developing a comprehensive (inaudible) strategy for (inaudible) testing and door to door tracing. And my legislation, a bipartisan legislation, (inaudible) community groups to hire and train and paying workers to engage in testing and contact tracing.

It prioritizes (inaudible) in medically unnecessary areas as well as entities to hire locally. And as such, I was very (inaudible) in your news on a national testing and tracing strategy. In your testimony, you said the virus is out there. It's everywhere. We need to be able to find it, to isolate it, and to (inaudible) people and with that, I could agree with you more.

My question (inaudible) on the scope on the NIH or BARDA, I believe that it's (inaudible) relevant, relevant to (inaudible). (Inaudible) as an expert on pandemic outbreaks (inaudible) should be our national strategy for testing and tracing?

BRIGHT: Sir, I think it's important. You've -- you're spot on that we need to have a strategy that that everyone follows the same strategy to test for the -- where the virus is, who's infected with this virus, know (ph) we have to appropriately isolate that person.


And quarantine them so they don't infect others, we rapidly need to trace their contacts and understand who they may been exposed to and be able to test of those individuals that they've been infected as well, we need to be able to isolate those.

So, we have a concerted, coordinated effort across the country, we can't be able to identify where that viruses is, who's been exposed, give those people proper treatment and isolation and we can slow the spread of this virus significantly. But that has to be in a coordinated way. We have to have the right test enough of those tests. It's not something we do once and we're done.

It's something we had to continually do in a community, so it's not just that we need one test for every person in America, we need multiple tests and the right types of test. We need the right types of individuals and professionals who know how to use those tests to trace the individual contacts and to isolate that virus and stop it from spreading.

RUSH: Well, I certainly thank you so very much. And thank you for, again, for being here and letting the American people know what really is going on in our nation with this pandemic. I thank you.

And, Madam Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.


There's no request from the -- from other speakers. OK.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: You have been listening here to some damming testimonies from the man who was in charge of the America's vaccine efforts who said he was demoted because he sounded the alarm of the Trump administration of lack of preparation and urgency in fighting the coronavirus. And because he refused to push the unproven treatments touted by the president. So among the headlines here, Rick Bright says the White House ignored

his warnings about the coronavirus very early on, in the early part of the year.

He said time is running out to stop further spreads across America. He said that the U.S. lacked and still lacks a national strategy.

Bright also testifying that he opposed the broad use of Hydroxychloroquine, a drug that the president called early on a game changer, which has since been certainly questioned and disproven.

He raised concerns that, once there's a vaccine, America will not distribute it fairly. And he detailed his repeated calls to help department officials to bulk up supplies of protective personal gear.

He described a chilling e-mail he got from an executive in a medical supply company who told him that the U.S. supply for N-95 masks, critical for protecting health care workers, was low, perilously low. This was an e-mail that Bright described. And it said, according to him, "We are in deep (EXPLETIVE DELETED). The world is."

I want to discuss now, starting with our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, there were a lot of takeaways here. Clearly, this has been a mess, to hear Rick Bright describe the government response to this. But perhaps the most alarming part of his testimony is about where we are at the president and where we're looking for the future.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. And what we know about the president is that there's only been one treatment that's shown to work again COVID-19 and has been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is not a block buster drug. It does seem to help. It is the only one.

What Rick Bright told us in this hearing is, back in early February, he told people who he worked with, hey, I think Remdesivir may show some promise, let's talk about shoring up our supplies of that. Fast forward to today, there's not enough Remdesivir to go around.

Just to give you one example -- it is being allocated by the government. Just to give you one example the city of San Francisco have enough doses for four patients, four, and they have 70 patients in the hospital of the city of San Francisco with the coronavirus, So 70 patients who may benefit from it and only four could get it.

Those numbers are repeated across the United States. Rick Bright warned about this back in early February.

KEILAR: And Dr. Hotez, I want to bring you into this conversation.

You are the dean of tropical medicine at Baylor. We've spoken many times. Your team is working now on a vaccine.

This was something important to listen to Rick Bright talk about the timeline here. One of the things he brought up was some vaccines take 10 years to develop. And the timeline that the administration is talking about is ambitious, clearly, overly ambitious if you listen to what he said.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, absolutely. Brianna, we had this discussion before that a typical timeline for a vaccine is often measured in decades and the record is something like four or five years for Ebola or the mumps vaccine. Can we do this in 12 or 18 months? And we're certainly -- it is all hands-on-deck trying to do that.


I think the testimony today really points out how ambitious that is and whether we can do that is a big question. Of course, we are working day and night to try to make it happen.

A few things that give me particular concern about -- again, this language that's been used, which is actually being counterproductive, talking about Operation Warp Speed or saying we'll have a vaccine by the fall, coming out of the administration when we know that's not true.

What this is doing is, of course, is getting people scared that any vaccines that are developed won't be safe because they're not adequately tested for safety.

And then piling onto that is an anti-vaccine movement in the United States that's very aggressive. And their two essential tenants are vaccines cause autism. And I spent years countering that. And I have a daughter with autism and I have been writing about this.

But also the -- showing there's no links between vaccine and that vaccine vaccines are rushed and not adequately tested for safety. And that really fuels the anti-vaccine movement to the point now where some surveys show a significant percentage of Americans will not take the vaccine even if it is made. So we have to do a lot of damage control around that.

And this gets to another point that Rick made, that Dr. Bright made that we don't have sort of an overarching plan. We need some leadership on that's going to rolled out and communicated. We urgently need a communication plan.

A number of things he said reinforced things we've been talking about over the last few weeks and months.

And then the really damning testimony about the health care providers. And that was that he knew, coming out of China, that health care providers were getting sick at incredibly high rates with very high morbidity in the number of deaths. We saw it in Europe. So Rick Bright sounded the alarm about this. And yet, he still --


KEILAR: Actually, Doctor, let's take a pause because we have the sound from the hearing. Let's listen to Rick Bright talking about his early warnings when it came to protective gears for health care workers.


DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED REACH AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: I was beginning to get alerts from industry colleagues in mid and late January telling me that, from the outside, from the industry view, that the supply chain was diminishing rapidly. Telling me that other countries we relied on supplying these masks were blocking export and stopping transfer of those masks to the United States.

I learned that China was trying buy the equipment from the United States producers to have it ship to China so they can make more.

And each of these alerts, and there were dozens of these alerts, I pushed those forward to our leadership and Dr. Cadillac and the senior leadership team.

I pushed those warnings to our critical infrastructure protection team. I pushed those warnings to our national strategic stockpile team, who has the responsibility of procuring those medical supplies for our stockpile.

In each of those, I was met with indifference, saying they were either too busy and they did not have a plan, they did not know who was responsible for procuring those. In some cases, they had a sick child and they'll get back to it later in the week. A number of excuses. But never any action.

It was weeks after my pushing that finally a survey was sent out to manufactures and producers of those masks, a survey, asking producers or companies if they actually made those masks.


KEILAR: Dr. Hotez, that was part of the hearing to me, it was like there was a pit in my stomach listening to that, that he knew so early on that he was faced -- he was confronted with oppositions within HHS for saying there's a shortage.

Listening the doctors like you who were watching this in January, you saw this slow rolling tsunami coming into the U.S. And the thing about the PPE was that you didn't have to reinvent the wheel on this. You could see what was happening in China.

What did you think about his description of the inner workings of his warnings in the government?

HOTEZ: Brianna, it gets me particular upset because the people were talking about are my former medical students who are now in residency programs and training programs in New York, on the front lines and in California. And they're the ones getting sick and they're the ones putting their lives on the line because of this.

[13:50:00] To me, this is very troubling. Because anyone who have been following the information coming out of the server, of the archive, the med archive, we knew the health care providers were going to be in a lot of trouble.

In fact, we knew that beforehand because this is what coronaviruses do. SARS, in 2003, disproportionately affected health care workers. So did MERS in 2012. This is the modus operandi of these coronaviruses. There's no secret this was going to be a huge issue. And the numbers of health care providers who died in Europe, I think in the hundreds now.

So the fact that everybody seemed to know this was coming to the United States and, yet, little was done or it was on obscured is -- it's more than troubling. These are people I've mentored for the last decade now, being put on the front lines and being put at risk because of this.

KEILAR: It's sickening knowing they could have been protected.

One of the things going into this, Gloria, was there was a counterpoint to, if he was someone who had actually favored Hydroxychloroquine, that drug, he sort of described with nuance how he had favored the scientific testing of it, but that he didn't want it to be widely available or pushed the stockpile so, all of a sudden, it would flood the market and people would be taking it when it wasn't proven to be safe.

And I found one of the Republican arguments to be interesting in that they basically were saying he shouldn't have even been there testifying because it went against normal, I guess, protocol for his testimony. And yet, they seemed to be touting this drug and going through not normal protocol for it to be used on humans.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, his whole point here was, look, Hydroxychloroquine, if you want to talk about it on an emergency use basis, you have to put guardrails around it. You have to make sure it's prescribed by a doctor. You can't make it widely available, so everyone can get it without having a doctor involved in the care of the patient.

What he was trying to do is say, look, we do need these guardrails or else this could really be a problem because it could potentially be detrimental to patients. And we've learned since then, Brianna, there have been studies that he was right about Hydroxychloroquine.

And so what I think we saw today was really somebody that the president said, oh, he was angry, and he's disgruntled. I think what we saw was somebody who was sad --


BORGER: -- saying, wait a minute, I'm sorry this happened. He didn't seem disgruntled to me as much as he did -- but in fact, he praised Peter Navarro at the White House for helping go to the Department of Defense to get swabs, for example. He seemed to me to be somebody saying, look, you have to pay attention

to the way things did not work in the past, to make sure that we can have them work in the future.

And so he was raising red flags for people to be aware of that there needs to be strategic plan, for example, if there's a vaccine and he was -- he put a little -- he said, wait a minute, I'm not sure it can be done that quickly.

But he said, look, if it could be done that quickly, we have to be sure that we have a distribution system in this country. And if we don't, it could become catastrophic. That was his word.

He was kind of looking towards the future here and saying the public has to be aware that we need a plan going forward because we did not have one in the past and look at what occurred.

KEILAR: That's right.

Gloria, thank you so much.

Elizabeth, Dr. Hotez, really appreciate all of your perspective.

And stay with me because President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar are on their way right now to tour a medical supply facility in Pennsylvania. But before they left, weighed in on Bright's testimony.

And Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Tell us what they said.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. The president said he'd been watching Rick Bright testify this morning and he dismissed many of the claims he made.

And the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, one of his superiors, weighed in and pushed back on some of the claims.

And what you hear from Azar is rare. Because we've not heard him say anything so far about Rick Bright since he was removed from his post. We've only gotten a few statements from HHS. And now here he is coming out with the president to push back on what Rick Bright was saying.



ALEX AZAR, HHS SECRETARY: Dr. Bright is up there testifying today. Everything he's complaining about was achieved.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've had a tremendous response to the Hydroxy. We've had a great response to zinc along with it and the Z-Pak. A lot of people have sworn by it. And we'll see.

I don't know him. I never met him. I don't want to meet him. But I watched him. And he looked like an angry, disgruntled employee who, frankly, according to some people, didn't do a very good job.


COLLINS: You see there, Brianna, he says that Rick Bright is a disgruntled employee.

It's notable, two things the president said there, because, one, he was talking about Hydroxychloroquine. And when Rick Bright was testifying today, he said he believed the president made inaccurate statements or not informed statements when he said there had been tremendous progress in Hydroxychloroquine and whether or not it could treat coronavirus.

And also, talking about a timeline for a coronavirus vaccine. The president has consistently offered a pretty rosy timeline and he repeated it again today saying he does believe there could be a vaccine by the end of the year.

And Rick Bright says he does not think that's the case. He said that's if everything goes right. And he says nothing has ever gone all right so far when it comes to vaccine development and doing so really quickly.

KEILAR: He said it can take up to 10 years and sometimes you don't even have one. It was pretty startling to hear him describe that, Kaitlan Collins.

Let's get back to Dr. Peter Hotez.

What did you think about what you heard from the president there?

HOTEZ: Yes, you know, I just don't understand. It sounds like he's still sticking with Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin, defending it. But 10 years ago, there was a study of Hydroxychloroquine showing it worked against influenza in the test tube. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out to work as a drug that actually worked in patients.

So we already knew that was a bit of a red flag for Hydroxychloroquine. The studies were always small. We were reserving judgment to see maybe it should be looked at in larger clinical trials. And eventually, it was shown not to be effective and dangerous in high doses.

So I don't understand why -- there seems to always be this magical thinking in the White House that we're going to -- that some miracle cure was going to solve the problem for the United States.

And that's not how it works. Even with regards to the vaccine. There's this magical thinking, again, that it's going to be like the Jonas Salk polio vaccine. We're going to bring all the press into the auditorium at the University of Michigan and pull back the curtains and there's the Wizard of Oz telling us we can all go dancing in the streets.

So there's this unrealistic expectations about how technology works. This is something that would be slowly rolled out. And they're still sticking to having things by the end of the year, which is not going to happen.

We probably won't be in phase three trials to evaluate effectiveness and fully understand safety probably until the fall. And it's probably at least a year after that, until late 2021, and that would be a world record.

So, you know, we've got to get it. And this is where it gets to having a master plan and leadership, not this magical-cure thinking. That's not what's going to happen in the United States.

It's going to have to be a carefully thought out COVID-19 recovery plan that not only includes the economic recovery but actually being able to sustain that economic recovery through very carefully thought- out guidance.

And that's the other piece that's missing. We're not hearing from the Centers for Disease Control on how we're going to do the testing at work, how we're going to do the contact tracing, what's going to be the system for surveillance, the public health communications, epidemiologic models at the city level. All of that, still not in place.

In fact, the only beginnings we're having of that coming out of individual academic centers. We've seen the Harvard Center for Ethics put out some detailed plans, at Columbia, one at Georgetown, and a couple of others. We're still not getting that coming from the CDC. We've never gotten the model of the CDC.

So unfortunately, a lot of Rick Bright's testimony rings true on the kind of things we've been talking about the last weeks and months.

KEILAR: Peter Hotez, Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much. We appreciate that.


You'll want to check this out. This is a special event on CNN, a new CNN global town hall with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.