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. Understanding that the United States had a critical shortage of necessary supplies and PPE to deal with a pandemic, in January, February and March, 2020, I pushed HHS to ramp up US production of masks, respirators and other critical supplies, such as medicine, syringes and swabs. Again, my urgency was dismissed and I was cut out of key high-level meetings to combat COVID-19. When I was nevertheless able to convey these urgent concerns by speaking directly with a senior White House advisor and with members of Congress who better understood the urgency to act, I faced hostility and marginalization from HHS officials. And finally, when I resisted efforts to promote and enable broad access to an unproven drug, chloroquine, to the American people without transparent information on the potential health risks, I was removed from BARDA.
While I am unfortunately no longer leading BARDA, I am an expert in these areas and fully understand the grave risks we are facing. I continue to believe that we must act urgently to effectively combat this deadly disease. 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. While it is terrifying to acknowledge the extent of the challenge that we currently confront, the undeniable fact is there will be a resurgence of the COVID19 this fall, greatly compounding the challenges of seasonal influenza and putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system. Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.
First and foremost, we need to be truthful with the American people. They want the truth. They can handle the truth. Truth, no matter how unpleasant, decreases the fear generated by uncertainty. The truth must be based on scientific evidence – and not filtered for political reasons. We must know and appreciate what we are up against. We have the world’s greatest scientists – they must be permitted to lead. Let them speak truthfully without fear of retribution. We must listen so that the government can then take the most powerful steps to save lives.
Most Americans want the same thing – a return to normal. The normal of 2019 is not going to return, but we all have an opportunity to shape the new normal of 2020 and beyond. With the participation and cooperation of every American, this can be achieved. We have a long history of uniting in response to adversity. Each of us can and must do our part now. However, it is critical to get this right. As my colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci testified on May 12, 2020, we must not rush blindly, or act too quickly, in returning to our daily lives. If we ignore the science, we stand a dramatically increased risk of worsening the spread of the virus in the coming months. This could lead to more widespread outbreaks and to many more lives lost throughout the remainder of this year.
To do our part, we need to hear one message in a voice that is clear, consistent, trustworthy, and backed by the best science available. In previous outbreaks, Americans listened to our public health experts at the CDC. They were the daily face and the voice guiding Americans during prior outbreaks including Ebola, Zika, and the H1N1 influenza pandemic. As an example, in 2009, the CDC, along with Elmo, taught Americans how to sneeze in a way that minimizes risk of contagion. Today, we need clear and simple messages to teach us how wear a face cover, when and how to safely go outside or back to work or back to school. It’s that simple.