“This was something that nobody has ever thought could happen to this country.” President Donald Trump said when speaking on the COVID-19 pandemic last week.
As it turns out, that was his own Health and Human Services secretary’s biggest fear.
“Of course, the thing that people ask: ‘What keeps you most up at night in the biodefense world?'” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said during a biodefense summit on April 17, 2019. “Pandemic flu, of course.”
“I think everyone in this room probably shares that concern,” he added.
Azar then spoke on the importance of being prepared in the event of a pandemic, saying that “we still need to improve our speed of production of pan flu vaccine and our capacities.”
“You know, this isn’t a topic that crosses the minds of most Americans every day, thankfully,” he told summit attendees. “In order to keep it that way, we need to continuously improve our preparedness work, which is why the biodefense strategy is a blueprint for action.”
Tim Morrison, a senior director for biodefense at the National Security Council who was also at the summit, said he had the exact same concern.
The adviser pointed to how quickly the deadly influenza of 1918 fanned out across the world due to steamship travel.
“And you think about the threat factors we have available today with roughly 500,000 people flying around the heavens at any given moment…that’s what keeps me up at night,” he said.
Azar and Morrison’s comments were first flagged by CNN.
Yet as the U.S. grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, Trump has defended his administration’s feeble response to COVID-19 by repeatedly claiming that the pandemic was entirely unforeseeable.
“We’re having to fix a problem that, four weeks ago, nobody ever thought would be a problem,” he said during a White House press conference in mid-March.