Tag Archives: cdc

May 17, 2020 Blumbers

 

Written Testimony
House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health

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Scientific Integrity in the COVID-19 Response

Statement of

Rick Bright, Ph.D

For Release on Delivery Expected at 10:00 am
May 14, 2020

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Good morning Chairwoman, Eshoo, Ranking Member Burgess and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me to testify today.

I am Dr. Rick Bright, a career public servant and a scientist who has spent 25 years of my career focused on addressing pandemic outbreaks. I received my bachelor’s degree with honors in both biology and physical sciences from Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama. I earned my PhD in Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis from Emory University in Georgia My dissertation was focused on pandemic avian influenza. I have spent my entire career leading teams of scientists in drugs, diagnostics and vaccine development — in the government with CDC and BARDA, for a global non-profit organization and also in the biotechnology industry. Regardless of my position, my job and my entire professional focus has been on saving lives. 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.

I joined the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in 2010 and from November of 2016 until April 21 of this year, I had the privilege of serving our country as its Director. During the time I was Director of BARDA we successfully partnered with private industry to achieve an unprecedented number of FDA approvals for medical countermeasures against a wide variety of national health security threats. This was a major and unprecedented accomplishment and one that I and the conscientious employees of BARDA take great pride in.

On April 21, 2020, I was removed from my positions as the Director of BARDA and HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response by HHS leadership and involuntarily transferred to a more limited and less impactful position at the National Institutes of Health. I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest funding allocated to BARDA by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit. 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.

The world is confronting a great public health emergency which has the potential to eclipse the devastation wrought by the 1918 influenza which globally claimed over 50 million lives. We face a highly-transmissible and deadly virus which not only claims lives but is also disrupting the very foundations of our societies. The American health-care system is being taxed to the limit, our economy is spiraling downward — leading to mass unemployment — and our population is being paralyzed by fear stemming from the lack of a coordinated response and a dearth of accurate, clear communication about the path forward. Americans yearn to get back to work, to open their businesses and provide for their families. I get that. We need a national coordinated strategy to look at all of these pieces and to ensure that they fit well together. To conceive and implement this strategy, our government must draw on the guidance of the best scientific minds.

In my position as BARDA Director, I led portions of a coordinated response; development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. In January of this year, I pushed for our government to obtain virus samples from China and to secure more funding for BARDA to be able to get started quickly on the development of critical medical countermeasures. HHS leadership was dismissive about

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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.

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While waiting for a cure (which, I believe, will come), there is much we MUST do. With clear leadership, honest communication, and data-driven solutions. We must:

  • Increase public education regarding the basics — handwashing, social distancing, appropriate face covering, self- and dependent monitoring, and frankly, our leaders must lead by modeling the behavior.

    o These simple measures reduce the number of people exposed and can buy us valuable time.

  • Ramp up production of essential equipment and supplies, including raw materials and critical components.

o Shortages of critical supplies and protective gear increase the risk to our frontline healthcare workers; they deserve the necessary equipment to protect themselves while treating their patients. First responders must also be given protective equipment. And we now see a courageous segment of our workforce – essential workers who keep food on our tables and keep our society running. They too deserve our appreciation and support.

  • Facilitate equitable distribution of essential equipment and supplies – eliminate the state vs. state competition. Establishing a national standard of procurement and distribution increases efficiency and reduces costs.

  • Finally, we need a national testing strategy. The virus is out there, it’s everywhere. We need to be able to find it, to isolate it and to stop it from infecting more people. We need tests that are accurate, rapid, easy to use, low cost, and available to everyone who needs them. We need be able to trust the results so that we can trace contacts, isolate and quarantine appropriately while striving to develop a cure.

    As I reflect on the past few months of this outbreak, it is painfully clear that we were not as prepared as we should have been. We missed early warning signals and we forgot important pages from our pandemic playbook. There will be plenty of time to identify gaps for improvement. For now, we need to focus on getting things right going forward. We need to ensure that we have a plan to recovery and that everyone knows the plan and everyone participates in the plan. Congress has taken important steps to support the response; and we have more to do. We need your help to get us through the crisis.

    We Americans, working cooperatively with our global friends, can and will succeed in finding a cure for COVID19, but that success depends on what we do today. We must unite and use all available tools and measures we have to stem the damage this virus has wrought.

    We will either be remembered for what we did or for what we failed to do to address this crisis. I call on all of us to act – to ensure the health, safety, and prosperity of all Americans. You can count on me to continue to do my part.

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May 3, 2020 Blumbers

Covid-19 News

On May 1, 2020 NPR’s Jeremy Hobson reported two disturbing bits of news. The CDC said over 50,000 citizens have died from Covid-19. The US Dept. of Labor said over 30 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits. We have to stop tying health insurance to employment. Nurses should not have to waste time asking about health insurance coverage while trying get your truly vital signs. National health screening would be a great network to communicate when a new disease appears.

Turkey Traffic

There is not a lot of traffic these days and wildlife is returning everywhere. Last week I got stuck in a traffic jam. I tried to see down the road and saw six turkeys wandering slowly through the cars like sheep on a country road. I had this happen with Canadian geese too. 

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline all rights reserved.

Mar. 15, 2020 Blumbers

Corona Virus Covid-19

On December 21, 2018 seventeen-year-old Avi Schiffmann in Seattle started a site about the coronavirus in China called nCoV2019.live. The site tracked deaths and numbers of cases locally and globally. It talked about the number of people who have recovered. “I basically just wrote a script that every minute or so just goes to those websites and downloads the latest information.”

On January 10, 2020 NPR’s Pien Huang reported “CDC to Screen For New Strain Of Coronavirus”. Originally called 2019-nCoV, it was spreading in the Hubei province city of Wuhan. More than forty people were diagnosed with mysterious viral lung infections since early December. It may have originally spread from bats to an unknown animal and then to humans. Experts think the infection probably came from a seafood and live animal market with people touching or eating animals that carry the virus. These individuals then developed viral symptoms including fever, breathing issues and lesions on their lungs. Approximately two percent of mainly older humans die from it.

The coronavirus family includes six other strains known to infect humans. Four of those strains cause common colds, and two (SARS and MERS) have caused major pandemics. All share a signature look under a strong microscope: a circle with spikes coming off the surface, ending with small blobs — hence the “corona.” “Kind of looks like the peaks of a crown,” says Carolyn Machamer, a virologist and cell biologist at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

On January 24, 2020 NPR’s Emily Vaughan reported “Coronavirus 101: What We Do — And Don’t — Know About The Outbreak Of COVID-19” The corona virus called 2019 novel coronavirus was renamed COVID-19 by the United Nations World Health Organization. 

The virus can spread from human to human. Early symptoms include fever and dry cough. Some people also experience fatigue, headaches and, less frequently, diarrhea. Shortness of breath can develop in about 5 days. Symptoms in severe cases include pneumonia (which makes it harder to breathe) and kidney failure. People over age 40 who died had significant underlying conditions” like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Some eighty percent of cases were mild with twenty percent of more severe cases requiring hospitalization. Two percent could be fatal.

Chinese government officials temporarily shut down transportation to and from Wuhan by bus, subway, ferry, airplane and train, according to Chinese state media. At least twelve other Chinese cities have limited travel as well. The travel ban came just days before the biggest holiday on the Chinese calendar, the Lunar New Year. Despite that COVID-19 spread from China to  the U.S., Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. 

On Mar. 4, 2020 NPR’s Stacey Vanek Smith reported “The Corona Bump” “Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the global economy and on businesses, disrupting manufacturing all over the world.”

That same day NPR’s Bill Chappell reported “Coronavirus Deaths In Washington State And California, Where Gov. Declares Emergency” The most recent death is connected to a cruise ship that traveled from the U.S. to Mexico. Officials in Placer County, Calif., announced that an elderly resident has become the first person to die from the illness in California. The patient, who was not identified, had underlying health conditions, according to the county. The patient tested positive for the coronavirus illness on March 3, 2020 and “was likely exposed during international travel from Feb. 11-21 on a Princess cruise ship that departed from San Francisco to Mexico.”

On Mar. 6, 2020 NPR’s Martin Kaste reported “U.S. Hospitals Prepare For A COVID-19 Wave” The  World Health Organization’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “We’re concerned that some countries have either not taken this seriously enough or have decided there is nothing they can do. … This is not a drill. This is not the time to give up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.” 

Large numbers of people may overwhelm hospitals. The American Hospital Association says the total number of Intensive Care Unit beds is about 65,000. Richard Waldhorn is a pulmonary critical care physician who’s studied hospital preparedness for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. He says government planning assumptions based on past flu pandemics suggest a surge in demand for intensive care that could range somewhere between 200,000 thousand and 2.9 million patients.

Around the world, people suspected of being infected were being quarantined on ships, military bases and their own homes for at least two weeks. The public was advised to practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart.  Sporting events and other large gatherings like conventions are being cancelled and hurting local economies. People are losing their jobs and causing a downturn.

Mar. 6, 2020 NPR Kelsey Snell, Domenico Montanaro, Scott Horsley, and Asma Khalid reported “Stock Market Slide Could Reshape Election; Biden Faces Test In South Carolina Primary” the stock markets around the world began to fall thousands of points because of disruption by COVID-19.

On March 9, 2020 MSNBC’s Steve Benen reported “Trump struggles to explain why he disbanded his global health team”. “It was two years ago when Trump ordered the shutdown of the White House National Security Council’s entire global health security unit. NBC News had a good report on this recently, noting that the president’s decision “to downsize the White House national security staff — and eliminate jobs addressing global pandemics — is likely to hamper the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus.”

On March 11, 2020 NPR’s Jason Beaubien reported COVID-19 Is Officially A Pandemic, Declares World Health Organization. The head of the WHO Tedros, Adhanom Ghebreyesus, today he said that the WHO is making this designation because they expect that things are going to get worse.

On Mar. 13, 2020 NPR’s Avie Schneider reported US President Donald Trump belatedly declared a state emergency. Stock markets fell around the world. Trading was halted as the Dow plunged 2300 points. The bull market became a bear market. “Just on Monday, the stock market had its worst drop since 2008 amid fears that the growing spread of coronavirus would push the global economy into recession.”

On Mar. 14, 2020 NPR’s Maria Godoy reported “Flattening A Pandemic’s Curve: Why Staying Home Now Can Save Lives”. As the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S., more and more businesses are sending employees off to work from home. Public schools are closing, universities are holding classes online, major events are getting canceled and cultural institutions are shutting their doors. Even Disney World and Disneyland closed. The disruption of daily life for many Americans is real and significant — but so are the potential life-saving benefits of isolation.

It’s all part of an effort to do what epidemiologists call flattening the curve of the pandemic. The idea is to increase social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus, so that you don’t get a huge spike in the number of people getting sick all at once. If that were to happen, there wouldn’t be enough hospital beds or mechanical ventilators for everyone who needs them, and the U.S. hospital system would be overwhelmed. That’s already happening in Italy.

Hope all this helps figure out what happened.

Copyright 2020 DJ Cline All rights reserved.

Contagion

This is not a movie to see in a crowded theater. Wait until you can watch it at home when you are sick with the flu. I thought it was an incredibly evenhanded account of a very dramatic story.

A bulldozer disrupts the rainforest habitat of a bat. The bat seeks shelter in a barn. The pigs in the barn are infected by the bat with a new virus. The pork is served in a restaurant to an executive from the bulldozer company. The virus spreads from China to people around the world. Millions die but most survive in a state of fear and panic. A CDC scientist tests an experimental vaccine on herself and proves it is safe for humans. People fight to get the vaccine. People begin to realize how important it is that everyone get access to health care to fight epidemics.

It seems like science fiction to me, but there is a subplot about a San Francisco reporter with a blog who figures out not only what is going on before anybody else but figures out how to make money from it. The bad guys try to arrest him but he has too many friends so they let him go. BTW: Jude Law looks ridiculous in his DEVO-esque isolation suit.

Wash your hands.

Copyright 2011 DJ Cline All rights reserved.