Earlier, former leader of the US federal vaccine agency Dr. Rick Bright claimed he was sidelined as “retaliatory treatment” for raising science-based concerns about White House policies on treating COVID-19 and vaccines.
Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) – the US department involved in developing a COVID-19 vaccine – has filed a formal whistleblower complaint alleging he was demoted to a “less impactful” position for raising concerns over President Donald Trump’s promotion of a specific treatment for the disease, while his early warnings about the coronavirus were disregarded, reports CNN.
In the complaint, Bright reveals he is seeking reinstatement as BARDA’s director and demanding a full investigation into the circumstances around his sidelining.
Scepticism and surprise were the only response Bright claims to have received after his warnings to superiors regarding shortages of critical medical supplies, including N95 masks, as the respiratory disease was fast spreading beyond China.
AP Photo / Ng Han GuanA resident wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past government propaganda poster featuring Tiananmen Gate in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Thursday, April 16, 2020
Despite some officials in the Trump administration, like White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, allegedly sharing his concerns, the vaccine scientist cites a deplorable overall lack of action at the top of the US administration, adding that he was eventually cut out of COVID-19 response meetings.
Bright claims he alerted officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to the lack of due preparedness for the outbreak as far back as in January, yet the reaction was “indifference which then developed into hostility”.
The former vaccine chief cites previous disputes with HHS leadership, including Secretary Alex Azar and Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, as also jeopardising his position.
Subsequently, Bright says he openly questioned US President Donald Trump’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the COVID-19 disease, making his position known to the HHS’s leadership when they sought to make “potentially harmful drugs” available for treating the respiratory disease despite a lack of reliable testing.
AP Photo / Alex BrandonDr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the coronavirus, as President Donald Trump listens, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Friday, April 17, 2020, in Washington
Trump had previously suggested that taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and azithromycin together was an effective treatment for COVID-19. The US President had claimed this might “have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.”
By mid-March, Bright and other officials, says the complaint, were increasingly pressured by top HHS officials to make chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine widely available to the public.
Despite having led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority since 2016, Rick Bright was reassigned in late April to a narrower position at the National Institutes of Health.
According to the scientist’s attorney, Bright is set to testify before a subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee on 14 May, after the chairwoman of the House’s Health Subcommittee, Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo, had been cited by CNN in April as intending to summon him before a panel to review his removal.
HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley has issued a statement saying:
In a tweeted response, the scientist’s spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff Lamy said Bright had taken sick leave after his removal caused his health to deteriorate.
Bright’s attorneys argue his demotion amounts to a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, claiming he “engaged in numerous instances of protected activity”.