Head of Federal Vaccine Development Says He Was Removed for Opposing ‘Misguided’ Hydroxychloroquine Treatment

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A pharmacy worker shows pills of hydroxychloroquine used to treat the coronavirus at the CHR Centre Hospitalier Regional de la Citadelle Hospital in Liege, Belgium, April 22, 2020. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

A doctor who was removed from his role overseeing a federal agency tasked with helping develop the coronavirus vaccine said that he was forced out by the Trump administration after limiting the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus.

Dr. Rick Bright, who had headed the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, since 2016, said in a statement that “clashes with political leadership” led to his sudden removal from the position.

“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,” he 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.”

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Bright, who was moved to a smaller role the National Institutes of Health, said he was asking HHS’s inspector general to “investigate” how government officials “politicized the work of BARDA” and “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,” he stated. “Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.”

President Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine’s anecdotal effectiveness against coronavirus, tweeting last month that the drug has “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” Clinical trials for the drug remain ongoing and inconclusive, with a nationwide study of coronavirus patients at U.S. Veteran’s Affairs hospitals finding the drug had no benefit.

Current and former HHS officials disputed Bright’s characterization of the move, telling Politico that it was “more than a year in the making.” Three sources added that Bright had supported the department’s acquiring of tens of millions of doses of the drugs in internal communications. “If Bright opposed hydroxychloroquine, he certainly didn’t make that clear from his email — quite the opposite,” one official, who has seen copies of the email exchanges, said.

Bright is being represented by lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who have a D.C. based whistleblower practice. They represented Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault during his nomination process in 2018.

While the White House did not publicly comment on the situation, the Washington Post cited sources who said Bright “repeatedly clashed” with his boss Robert Kadlec, the assistant HHS secretary for preparedness and response.



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