CORONAVIRUS

Agency Says Vaccine Official's Ouster May Have Been Retaliation: Report

Rick Bright cast doubt on whether hydroxychloroquine — a drug Trump touted — could treat coronavirus. Then he got fired.

A federal agency said Friday that it has found “reasonable grounds to believe” the Trump administration fired Rick Bright in retaliation for his stance on a coronavirus treatment touted by President Donald Trump, according to multiple reports.

Bright was abruptly dismissed as director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority late last month, and removed as the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response. He had been in charge of overseeing the search for and production of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

The Office of Special Counsel, which protects whistleblowers, is recommending that he be reinstated while it continues investigating the matter. Its decision comes days after Bright filed a whistleblower complaint against the administration. 

As Trump promoted hydroxychloroquine on TV and Twitter, Bright urged caution. The health official pressed for rigorous testing of the drug, an anti-malaria treatment Trump suggested be used in the fight against the coronavirus even though it has not been proven as an effective treatment for COVID-19. In a statement following his dismissal, Bright said he had also faced pressure to divert federal funding to Trump’s drug of choice. 

Bright was then transferred to what the Times called a “narrower job” in the National Institutes of Health.

“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”

Trump called Bright a “disgruntled employee” when asked about the Office of Special Counsel’s findings, according to a Friday afternoon pool report.

One of Bright’s concerns about hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, another drug pushed by Trump, was that they are manufactured in factories in India and Pakistan that had not been inspected by the FDA, he said in his whistleblower statement. He tried to express his concerns to government officials, but felt that they “refused to listen or take appropriate action to accurately inform the public.”

Bright finally turned to the media himself after concluding “that he had a moral obligation to the American public, including those vulnerable as a result of illness from COVID-19, to protect it from drugs which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” according to his whistleblower complaint.

Bright earned his PhD from Emory University and has worked in infectious disease research and treatment development for more than 25 years. Until April, he had been serving in his position at the HHS since 2010.


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