Editor's Note: The following report it courtesy of content partner KATV Channel 7 News.
WASHINGTON — As the coronavirus spread to all 50 states over the last two months, the Trump administration faced mounting criticism for the lack of reliable, widely accessible test kits. Now, a former senior federal health official nominated to his post by President Trump, alleges that the delays in testing occurred because leaders at the Centers for Disease Control “lied” to the president, and to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, about the center’s ability to produce the kits.
In making the allegation, Chris Meekins, a former assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for preparedness and response, cited private discussions he has held in recent weeks with top federal officials and physicians and scientists employed in private-sector industries that are active in the anti-coronavirus effort. Meekins described his contacts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force as “friends,” some of whom he has known for many years.
CDC has acknowledged that its initial stab at mass production of the test kits encountered “a problem,” and that federal deployment of safe testing equipment lagged as a result.
The center’s initial test kit carried the formal name “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR Diagnostic Panel.”
On February 3, CDC invoked public health emergency laws to petition the Food and Drug Administration to allow medical professionals to make use of unapproved medical and diagnostic products that included these test kits.
FDA issued its approval the next day. With that green light, a special unit of CDC, the International Reagent Resource (IRR), began shipping off the test kits. “Shortly thereafter,” CDC later disclosed, laboratories started noticing “performance issues” with the test kits, with the end result of laboratory personnel “not being able to verify the test performance.”
The core issue was said to be a defect “in the manufacturing of one of the reagents,” the center said. “CDC is remanufacturing the reagents with more robust quality control measures,” the center’s website noted, adding that new tests would be distributed “once this issue has been addressed.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health -- widely regarded as the most experienced and respected expert serving on the president’s coronavirus task force -- said post blank in a January 31 briefing.
More recently, Fauci has intimated publicly that the Trump administration’s experience with CDC in this urgent period was an unhappy one, with the transition to a greater role for the private sector reflecting the administration’s displeasure. “What we can say,” Fauci told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” last Sunday, is that “now that we have the private sector involved, we’re going to see an entirely different scene than we’ve seen the weeks previously, for sure.”
The sensational claim by Meekins -- alleging deception on the part of CDC leadership in their dealings with the White House and HHS -- has not been previously reported. A CDC official said Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control, was briefed on Sinclair’s reporting. Shortly thereafter, a spokesman for the center issued a statement that implicitly charged Meekins with deceiving the public.
“CDC rapidly developed a diagnostic test for CDC and the nation’s public health labs,” the statement said. “Today, more than 89 public health labs in 50 states and the District of Columbia are using the COVID-19 test.
The White House declined to comment. A spokesman at HHS, asked about Meekins’s claim that Secretary Azar was deceived by CDC leadership, declined to provide any substantive response. The spokesman instead issued a statement affirming that “all of our leaders bring highly valuable experience and expertise to this effort,” and that officials at CDC and FDA are “working together to correct the issue with the diagnostic in a timely manner.”