Trump, Azar rebuke testimony of ousted vaccine official

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is sharply rebuking remarks from ousted federal vaccine official Rick Bright about the coronavirus response, saying his allegations “do not hold water.”

“Everything he is complaining about was achieved. Everything he talked about was done,” Azar, flanked by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE, told reporters on the White House lawn on Thursday before departing for a trip to a medical equipment distributor in Pennsylvania.

Azar sought to counter comments Bright made the same day before House lawmakers, warning of the “darkest winter in modern history” without a national play to fight the pandemic.

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“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 told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Azar, who spoke as Bright’s testimony was ongoing, described him as among many federal officials who pushed for the United States to procure more personal protective equipment and ventilators and to accelerate development of vaccines and therapeutics.

“He says he talked about the need for respirators. We procured respirators under the president’s direction. He said we need a Manhattan project for vaccines. This president initiates a vaccine Manhattan project, diagnostic Manhattan project, therapeutic Manhattan project,” Azar said, speaking loudly over Marine One as it waited for the officials to board.

Bright was demoted from his leadership role at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in late April and moved to a narrower position at the National Institutes of Health.

Earlier this month, he filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that his early warnings about the virus were met with indifference at the Health and Human Services Department and that his efforts to push back on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus, a method touted by the president, contributed to his removal.

Azar suggested Thursday that Bright himself had endorsed the treatment, casting doubt on his allegations.

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“Dr. Bright literally signed the application for FDA authorization of it. Literally, he is the sponsor of it,” Azar said. “His allegations do not hold water. They do not hold water.”

Trump later chimed in, saying he watched some of Thursday’s testimony and found Bright to be a “disgruntled, unhappy person.”

He also insisted his administration had received “tremendous response” on the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that has seen limited success in treating patients with coronavirus but has also been linked to heart rhythm problems, raising safety concerns.                           

“I don’t know him, I never met him, I don’t want to meet him, but I watched him and he looks like an angry disgruntled employee who frankly according to some people didn’t do a very good job,” Trump told reporters.