Dr. Rick Bright, the government’s leading vaccine expert who was ousted last month, has filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, alleging he was terminated for advocating scientific solutions to combat the coronavirus over unproven and potentially dangerous malaria drugs that the Trump administration aggressively pushed.
Dr. Bright insists his termination as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response is a case of whistleblower retaliation. In his complaint to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Dr. Bright calls for his reinstatement and an official investigation of his allegations.
Political influence muddying pandemic response
Like dozens of other officials at all levels of the government, Dr. Bright says his job was complicated by cronyism and corruption as early as 2017 when he stood up against political influence on government contracts that stretched all the way to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his pharmaceutical industry ties.
Dr. Bright indicated that this simmering tension intensified when he resisted the administration’s plan to make the malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine “on demand to the American public” as a COVID-19 treatment even when their use for that purpose lacked any scientific merit.
Science versus politics and money
“I witnessed government leadership rushing blindly into a potentially dangerous situation by bringing in a non-FDA approved chloroquine from Pakistan and India from facilities that had never been approved by the FDA,” Dr. Bright told reporters Tuesday, according to Law 360. “Their eagerness to put blindly forward, without sufficient data, to put this drug into the hands of Americans was alarming to me and my fellow scientists.”
On April 20, Dr. Bright was removed from his position at BARDA and transferred into a less influential role at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That same day, the results of a nationwide study were published, showing a substantially higher rate of death among COVID-19 patients who were given the malaria drugs touted by Trump.
“I was removed from my position because of my continued insistence that the government invest funds allocated by Congress — hard earned taxpayer dollars — to address the COVID-19 and invest them into safe and scientifically vetted solutions instead of funding projects that were promoted by cronies or politically connected companies,” Dr. Bright told reporters.
Dr. Bright said that he considered all options and thought outside the box for solutions to the coronavirus pandemic, but he insisted that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine be given to closely monitored COVID-19 patients only in a hospital environment because of the risks.
The alarming results of the VA hospital study, which researchers cut short to save patients’ lives, prompted the FDA to issue a warning against the wide use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus symptoms.
Retaliation may occur in the workplace when an employer punishes an employee for an action that is permitted by law, but which the employer wants to discourage. For example, an employer may retaliate against an employee who makes harassment or discrimination complaints, who reports fraud or other wrongdoing in the workplace, or who participates in an investigation within the workplace. Some employers also retaliate against employees who report workplace injuries to state or federal authorities.
Lawyers in our Fraud section handle complaints involving employment law, including retaliation. For more information or to discuss a possible claim, contact Larry Golston, Leon Hampton or Lauren Miles in this section.