A senior US government doctor who worked on the search for a coronavirus vaccine has claimed he was fired after resisting Donald Trump’s push to use the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Rick Bright was this week ousted as director of the US health department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or Barda, and as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
In a stunningly candid statement, Bright highlighted his refusal to embrace hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug relentlessly promoted by the president and Fox News despite a lack of scientific studies.
“Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit,” Bright said.
“While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.”
Asked about Bright at the White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Trump said: “I never heard of him. If a guy says he was pushed out of a job, maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. You’d have to hear the other side. I don’t know who he is.”
Trump repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine as therapy for coronavirus, pointing to a Democratic state representative in Michigan who claimed it benefited her and frequently asking: “What do you have to lose?”
But on Tuesday an analysis of the drug’s use in US veterans hospitals found no benefit.
Bright added: “I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalised patients with confirmed Covid-19 while under the supervision of a physician. These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with Covid-19.
“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis.”
Bright has reportedly hired lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, whose clients have included government whistleblowers and Christine Blasey Ford, who went public with allegations of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh during his supreme court nomination in 2018.
On Wednesday, Ronald Klain, who led the Obama administration’s response to an Ebola outbreak in 2014, tweeted: “Dr Bright is a professional – an expert on vaccines – who I met during the Ebola response. If this is true, it … represents an ongoing effort by the Trump administration to put politics ahead of science and safety.”
Dr Bright said he would request that the health department inspector general investigate the way in which the Trump administration has “politicised the work of Barda, and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit.
“Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.”
Bright, whose entire career had been spent in vaccine development, had led Barda since 2016. He was moved to a less influential post at the National Institutes of Health.
He told the New York Times: “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.
“I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science – not politics or cronyism – has to lead the way.”
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