CORONAVIRUS

FDA Advisers Abruptly Removed Amid COVID-19 Communications Mess: Reports

The chief spokesperson was ousted after the head of the Food and Drug Administration had to walk back a statement about plasma therapy.

Two public relations advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been ousted after the agency came under fire for overstating the efficacy of blood plasma as a COVID-19 treatment, multiple news outlets reported Friday.

The news comes a day after President Donald Trump repeated the FDA’s misleading claims during the Republican National Convention, boasting that plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus “will save thousands and thousands of lives.”

One of those removed is the FDA’s chief spokesperson, Emily Miller, who started in the job just 11 days ago.

“Effectively immediately, Emily Miller will no longer serve the FDA as the assistant commissioner for media affairs and will no longer be the official spokesperson for the agency,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn wrote in an email to staff obtained by Politico. “I will appoint someone to an acting role in that position in the interim.”

Miller, who previously worked at the far-right outlet One America News and on the reelection campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), tweeted Trump’s erroneous remarks about plasma during his RNC speech on Thursday.

Yet days earlier, after announcing that the FDA was authorizing wider use of convalescent plasma therapy and sharing false data indicating it to be a far more effective coronavirus treatment than the study actually suggested, Hahn was forced to apologize for his remarks.

“The criticism is entirely justified,” Hahn tweeted on Monday after scientists blasted him for grossly overstating how many deaths the plasma treatment could be expected to prevent. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction,” he continued.

While plasma, the fluid left over when red and white blood cells are removed from a donor’s blood, may be a promising element in the development of COVID-19 treatments, the data simply isn’t there yet for the FDA to make such bold claims, critics said

But Trump had already run with the FDA’s messaging, declaring last weekend that the emergency authorization of plasma treatment was “a truly historic announcement in our battle against the China virus that will save countless lives.” 

Miller was one of the people who prepped Hahn on his misleading remarks, CNN reported.

The other person let go is Wayne Pines, a public relations consultant who had in fact advised Hahn to correct his comments overstating the data on plasma treatment.

“I did recommend that he correct the record,” Pines told The New York Times. “If a federal official doesn’t say something right, and chooses to clarify and say that the criticism is justified, that’s refreshing.” 

Pines said he wasn’t told why his contract was severed by the Department of Health and Human Services, but the HHS chief of staff told the Times that it had nothing to do with the plasma fiasco and was “100 percent coincidence.”

Convalescent plasma, donated for medical purposes, has been used in helping people recover from various viruses. Once a patient recovers from a viral disease, their plasma may carry antibodies that can attack that pathogen. When administered to other people battling the same virus, the plasma may improve their chances of recovery or reduce the severity of their illness. 

As he’s now doing with plasma, Trump has repeatedly overstated the potency of various coronavirus treatments. Despite the lack of evidence, he’s touted hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, as a COVID-19 cure for months and even said he’d taken it himself. Doctors, however, warn that using hydroxychloroquine inappropriately could have dangerous results.