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 pandemic over unproven and potentially dangerous malaria drugs that the Trump administration aggressively pushed.
Dr. Bright is seeking reinstatement to his position as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) as deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response. He is also calling for an official investigation of his allegations that he was terminated in retaliation for speaking out against the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis.
In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on May 14, Dr. Bright told lawmakers he believed his reassignment to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was retaliation for his resistance to making unproven risky malaria drugs available “on demand to the American public.”
Dr. Bright said that the Department of Health and Human Services’ strategy to combat the coronavirus spread was unfounded in science and a politically driven misuse of taxpayer money. He warned that the “window of opportunity is closing” to slow the spread of the virus due to the continued “lack of a coordinated response and a dearth of accurate, clear communication about the path forward.”
His warnings were echoed by Michael Bowen, the co-owner of a Texas mask-manufacturing company. Mr. Bowen testified that the U.S. government outsourced almost all of its manufacturing of masks and critical medical supplies to China and other countries. At the same time, he said, the government has repeatedly ignored warnings sounded by medical and industry leaders about the dangerous inadequacy of supplies.
“I’m a lifelong Republican, and I’m embarrassed by how that’s been handled,” Mr. Bowen testified. “Like Rick Bright said, it’s the scientists we need to be listening to, and we’re not.”
Dr. Bright told lawmakers that “there were some attempts to bypass that rigorous vetting process” of the drug hydroxychloroquine, which Donald Trump publicly endorsed as “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” despite the lack of scientific evidence for that claim. `
On April 20, the same day Dr. Bright was removed from his BARDA position and transferred into a less influential NIH role, the results of a comprehensive study were published showing that COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine died at higher rates than those who weren’t given the drug. The results were so alarming that the study had to be cut short.
Dr. Bright said that the federal government should be leading efforts to find “safe and scientifically vetted solutions instead of funding projects that were promoted by cronies or politically connected companies.” He told lawmakers:
If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged. There will be likely a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. It will be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza. Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.
Dr. Bright’s warnings elicited a familiar anti-whistleblower response from Trump. Last fall and winter, Trump repeatedly sought to discredit and expose the intelligence official whose whistleblower accusations triggered the Ukraine scandal and impeachment hearings.
Sources: Washington Post, CNN, C-Span, Rev.com, CBS news
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