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(CNN)President Donald Trump said Friday evening that he thought Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was referring to the “concept” of pandemics after it was reported Azar said last year the threat of a pandemic kept him up at night.
CNN’s KFile reported earlier Friday that Azar said in April 2019 at the Biodefense Summit that the threat of a pandemic kept him up at night, undercutting Trump’s previous claims that “nobody knew” there could be a pandemic.
When asked about KFile’s reporting by CNN’s Jim Acosta, Trump said he assumed Azar’s comments referred to the “concept” of a pandemic and not any specific threat, and the President said he “always knew” pandemics were bad.
“I always knew that pandemics are one of the worst things that could happen,” Trump said at the White House coronavirus task force news briefing. “I’ve heard about this for a long time, pandemics. You don’t want pandemics. I don’t think he was talking about a specific pandemic, he was talking about the threat of a pandemic could happen. And it could happen. Most people thought it wouldn’t, and most people didn’t understand the severity of it.”
“I assume that he was talking about the concept of a pandemic,” Trump added.
Last April, Azar and Tim Morrison, the former senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense on the National Security Council, both said at the BioDefense Summit that the threat of a pandemic kept them up at night.
“Of course, the thing that people ask: ‘What keeps you most up at night in the biodefense world?’ Pandemic flu, of course. I think everyone in this room probably shares that concern,” Azar said at the time, adding that the administration developed a National Biodefense Strategy.
At Friday’s news briefing, Azar defended the administration’s preparedness efforts, saying, “We’ve all been very focused on pandemic preparedness.”
“For 15 years now, this country has had a massive effort at the federal, state and local level of preparedness for pandemic,” said Azar, noting that was largely about pandemic flu.
“We knew about SARS, we knew about MERS, which were earlier modifications of the coronavirus. None of those achieved anything like what we are seeing today. But that is why four successive presidencies, including the leadership of President Trump, there has been a great focus on pandemic preparedness,” Azar added, noting a list of efforts the Trump administration has done to combat the coronavirus pandemic.