WASHINGTON - Former White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said she thinks about comments former President Donald Trump made asking if people should inject themselves with disinfectants to fight COVID-19 "every day."
"Frankly, I didn't know how to handle that episode," Birx said Monday in an interview with ABC News' Terry Moran. "I still think about it every day."
Birx, who was tapped by former Vice President Mike Pence to manage the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, clashed with Trump and other officials who moved to set aside science and promote "reopening" the country amid the worsening pandemic.
Trump's raising of unproven ideas for fighting COVID-19 — including his public musings about injecting disinfectants into people — triggered an outcry from health officials in April last year. The makers of Lysol made a statement in the wake of the then-president's remarks urging people not to ingest their cleaning products.
"Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?" Trump asked. "Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that."
Birx said Monday that she was extremely uncomfortable when Trump made the suggestion.
"You can see how extraordinarily uncomfortable I was," Birx said, "Those of you who have served in the military know that there are discussions you have in private with your commanding officers and there's discussions you had in public."
Throughout the course of Trump’s presidency, he promoted untested drugs and floated his own ideas for treatment, sometimes sidelining and clashing with his own medical experts, including Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who were a part of the Trump administration’s White House coronavirus task force.
Fauci, the United States’ leading expert on infectious diseases, said a lack of facts and transparency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic in the Trump administration "very likely" cost lives.
In January, during an interview with CNN’s John Berman, Fauci was asked if the lack of "candor" and "facts in some cases over the last year cost lives." Fauci responded, "You know, it very likely did."
Fauci is now the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden in an ambitious effort to conquer the virus. Fauci told CNN that the Trump administration delayed getting sound scientific advice to the country. "When you start talking about things that make no sense medically and no sense scientifically, that clearly is not helpful," he said.
During the second daily press conference of the new Biden administration Jan. 21, Fauci acknowledged that he feels less constrained under Biden’s presidency. He said, "It is very clear that there were things that were said regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that really was uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact."
"I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president so it was really something that you didn't feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn't be repercussions about it," Fauci continued.
Fauci’s reference was to Trump’s push for the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, which was widely disputed by medical experts and proven to have deleterious effects. The FDA eventually cautioned against its use outside of clinical settings.
"The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what evidence, what the science is and let the science speak, it is somewhat of a liberating feeling," Fauci said.
A reporter pointed out that Fauci had "basically vanished" for several months after being drowned out by Trump and asked if he felt like he was back, to which Fauci replied, "I think so."
Trump’s West Wing press shop had tightly controlled Birx and Fauci’s media appearances — and blocked most of them. Both doctors went from being a constant presence in the briefing room during the first weeks of the pandemic to largely being banished.
Birx announced last week that she is joining the George W. Bush Institute as a senior fellow.
She will assist with the institute’s public health work, as well as policy efforts to study "how to better position our country to tackle health disparities in the future based off the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.