Rik Mehta, a pharmacist and former FDA consumer safety officer from New Jersey, is seeking to replace failed presidential candidate Cory Booker as Senator from New Jersey. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, he feels his experience as a healthcare professional would benefit the nation if elected to public office. He took the time to answer a few questions.
I was watching an interview with Taiwan’s Vice President (and leading epidemiologist), Chen Chien-jen, with his alma mater the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. One of the things they said is that having elected officials with healthcare education and experience made a big difference in why Taiwan was so exceptionally successful in handling the COVID-19 outbreak. What is your take on that?
I agree 100%. Right now, we have a bunch of career politicians, like my opponent Senator Cory Booker, who do not understand the delivery of healthcare, the practice of medicine and are completely unequipped to deal with these issues. Senator Booker cares more about what sounds good on Twitter, than what policies actually work when dealing with a pandemic.
As a pharmacist and former public health official, I have tackled health crises firsthand. We need to get away from the partisan nonsense and do what is right by and for our citizens to control the pandemic and get Americans working again.
New Jersey’s former Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno says that NJ “has a long and proud history as the medicine chest of the world.” What is the situation today?
Unfortunately, the anti-business, anti-taxpayer policies in New Jersey have driven many of these businesses and jobs away. Senator Booker and his cronies in the NJ Legislature have made New Jersey non-competitive with our neighbors both here in the U.S. and globally. How can we expect companies to settle in our state when all they do is push higher taxes, more regulation, and make the state unaffordable for employees to live near their place of employment?
As New Jersey’s next U.S. senator, I will put America first and bring our medical manufacturing from overseas back to New Jersey. At the same time my policies will create thousands of jobs, reduce our tax appropriations spent on foreign manufacturing and lower the price of prescription drugs all while strengthening our national security.
You have been vocal about bringing the medical supply chain back to the United States. How? What about your opponent? Where does Senator Booker stand on this?
As I wrote in a recent op-ed on this subject, more than 80% of the ingredients necessary to make your medicine is sourced from China and other foreign countries. As unbelievable as it may sound, our factories have not made antibiotics in the United States in decades; it’s a far cry from World War II, when our plants produced life-saving penicillin helping our soldiers win the war. So, America’s reliance on foreign drug manufacturing has become a very real national security concern.
Under the Obama administration, China doubled its drug manufacturing facilities, while we closed ours. And, to make matters worse, Cory Booker supported legislation that would crush medical innovation in America. Months ago, I predicted that if China was forced to close itself down to combat the coronavirus pandemic, or at some point decided to interrupt the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain, it would create a major shortage of life-saving medicines. And indeed, last month, the FDA reported the first supply chain disruption.
My plan would streamline the FDA approval process, reduce redundant manufacturing regulations, prioritize the use of tax appropriations for America-first manufacturing and use incentive programs, like FDA priority-review vouchers, for companies that manufacture innovative life-saving drugs in America. We need a change – and fast.
What will you do to hold China to account?
First off, let us make no mistake – China covered up. They silenced their own scientists that tried to give us early warnings about COVID-19 resulting in the quicker spread of the disease to America and globally. The United States and our allies need to sanction those Chinese nationals involved in this cover-up – we must hold individuals responsible.
I also support President Trump’s efforts to get tougher on China, slap them with tariffs and sue them to recover the trillions of dollars lost. Our lawmakers, like Senator Booker, worry more about playing identity politics, than they do dealing with the very serious threat China poses.
Just a few days ago, Cory Booker touted legislation to return funding to the World Health Organization, while at the same time neglected to secure funding for one-fifth of the counties in New Jersey, leaving our proud small-business owners in the lurch.
For several weeks now you have been talking about the need to reopen the US and NJ economy. How do you propose rolling that out?
Listen, this virus is very serious and people need to be cautious but our federal and state governments need to balance that public health risk with the economic damage and mental health anguish these broad, sweeping lockdowns are causing. I have urged state officials to allow businesses to reopen on an evidence-based approach that includes consideration for the total burden of disease, doubling time of the infection rates, and the parts of our population with preexisting health conditions, while encouraging New Jerseyeans to continue with smart social distancing and precautionary measures.
Our Governor here in New Jersey, Phil Murphy, seems bent on keeping the state shutdown for several more months, not weeks. In the process, he is destroying our economy – particularly our Jersey Shore and South Jersey – while at the same time begging the federal government for bailouts.
Everyday Americans are facing food insecurity due to their inability to work and this shutdown is growing our economic depression and increasing the incident rate of mental health issues; the scope and breadth of which remain to be seen. Add to this the fact that NJ gets less federal funding from Washington than we send thanks to ineffective and failed Senators like Cory Booker. This crisis needs to be a wakeup call for a new era of fiscal discipline in the state. We have been lacking this for far too long.
In a nutshell, what will you do to tackle COVID-19 and how can we do better in the future?
In the short term, we need to incrementally reopen our economy and trust our small businesses to self-regulate smart public health measures. The long-term question, however, is the key. We can’t be caught flat-footed again. To hear Joe Biden criticize President Trump on COVID-19 is outrageous.
For eight years the Obama-Biden administration did very little to prepare us for the eventuality of a pandemic. Supply chains are a disaster, medical manufacturing moved overseas, and our healthcare system was simply not equipped to deal with this. I credit the moves made early on by the President and his team to remedy this, but moving forward I expect a complete overhaul of our readiness capabilities.
As Senator, I would be a leader in that effort given my background as a health professional, and certainly would bring more to the table in my first year in office than Cory Booker has done his entire term.