Public health and safety have been jeopardized by the administration’s hostility to the truth and by its politicization of the pandemic response, undoubtedly leading to tens of thousands of preventable deaths. For that reason, and because the administration has in effect barred me from working to fight the pandemic, I resigned on Tuesday from the National Institutes of Health.
Until April, I had for almost four years been director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. When I strongly objected this past spring to the Trump administration’s insistence that BARDA support widespread access to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two potentially dangerous drugs recklessly promoted by President Trump as a covid-19 cure, I was shunted to NIH and assigned a more limited role in the pandemic response.
My task at NIH was to help launch a program expanding national covid-19 testing capacity. The program is well underway and should reach nearly 1 million daily tests by the end of the year. Since early September, though, I was given no work; my services apparently were no longer needed.
I fear the benefits of dramatically improved testing capacity will be wasted unless it is a part of a coordinated national testing strategy. My recommendations to support a national plan were met with a tepid response. In an administration that suffers from widespread internal chaos, such coordination may be impossible — especially when the White House has seemed determined to slow down testing and not test people who might have asymptomatic infections.
From the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the administration’s failure to respond with a coordinated strategy only heightened the danger. Now the nation, and the world, are in the worst public health crisis in over a century. More than 1 million people worldwide have died from the pandemic; more than 211,000 Americans are dead. More than half of the states in this country are reporting rising covid-19 cases. Nine months into the pandemic, the United States continues to grapple with failed White House leadership. Instead, we get the recent spectacle of the president exploiting his own illness for political purposes and advising the nation, “Don’t be afraid of Covid.” Ironically, he was only able to leave the hospital after receiving two treatments that I had pushed for in January.
Meanwhile, there is still no coordinated national strategy to end the pandemic. Federal agencies, staffed with some of the best scientists in the world, continue to be politicized, manipulated and ignored.
The country is flying blind into what could be the darkest winter in modern history. Undoubtedly, millions more Americans will be infected with the coronavirus and influenza; many thousands will die. Now, more than ever before, the public needs to be able to rely on honest, non-politicized and unmanipulated public health guidance from career scientists.