The government’s leading vaccine expert says he will lodge a whistleblower complaint after he was removed from his position allegedly in retaliation for resisting the president’s claims that the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could be used as an effective coronavirus treatment.
Dr. Rick Bright was the director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority as well as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response until he was forced out of that position April 21 and moved to a less significant role at the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Bright, who spent his entire career in vaccine development and pandemic preparation, said his demotion was a direct, retaliatory response for speaking out against Donald Trump’s vows to make the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine widely available to Americans as a COVID-19 treatment.
“I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Dr. Bright said in a statement to the New York Times. “I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician.”
Dr. Bight said he insisted “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.”
“I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way,” he said, warning that “rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths.”
Dr. Bright’s lawyers said that his removal was “retaliation, plain and simple.” They are requesting that the HHS inspector general investigate the matter, the Trump administration’s alleged interference with the pandemic response and its politicization of legitimate medical research.
“The results from the administration’s refusal to listen to the experts and to sideline those like Dr. Bright who point out any errors in the government’s response will continue to be catastrophic for the American people,” Dr. Bright’s lawyers said.
Several leading health officials have criticized Trump’s touting of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” in the fight against coronavirus despite the lack of evidence. In fact, clinical studies have shown that the malaria drugs can cause potentially fatal heart complications in COVID-19 patients.
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a formal warning against using chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine outside of a medical setting to treat coronavirus symptoms, essentially echoing Dr. Bright’s concerns. The agency said that the drugs “can cause abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation and a dangerously rapid heart rate called ventricular tachycardia.”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said Bright’s allegations were “incredibly disturbing” and promised to look into the whistleblower allegations.
“A global pandemic is not the time to shuffle personnel, or contradict and remove experts for wanting to do their job well,” she said.
We need to be listening to experts and science, not pushing them aside. A global pandemic is not the time to shuffle personnel, or contradict and remove experts for wanting to do their job well. These reports are incredibly disturbing and I will be pushing for answers. https://t.co/KceFh09GCU
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) April 22, 2020
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also promised to investigate Dr. Bright’s “devastating charge.” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Cal.), chairwoman of the House’s health subcommittee, has indicated she would hold a hearing to look into Dr. Bright’s removal.
“I think the American people deserve to hear Dr. Bright’s story,” Rep. Eshoo said, according to CNN. “He really has worked for the American people — they are the ones who have paid his salary. A thoroughbred professional — and to set him aside in one of the most key positions to develop vaccines in the midst of the pandemic? The story doesn’t make sense to me. So I think it deserves examination.”
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.