Vaccine Expert Claims He Was Ousted for Opposing White House's Promotion of Unproven COVID-19 Drugs
Vaccine expert Rick Bright was terminated from his role as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Bright claims it was over his opposition to the statements made by the White House regarding malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
In a statement to the New York Times, Bright said he has pushed for science, not politics, as the key to battling the pandemic. Bright has helmed BARDA since 2016 and overseen a number of collaborative efforts with industry leaders to develop potential vaccines for the disease. Bright said he believes he was removed from his post for a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health over his “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.”
“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 told the Times. He added that he resisted efforts to provide a drug that has not been proven to be effective in treating COVID-19 to the public.
Bright is a longtime vaccines expert who got his start at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researching influenza vaccines. He told the Times that his professional background has prepared him for the moment to confront a pandemic and has been focused on leading the government’s efforts to invest in the best science available to combat the pandemic. However, Bright said that led to clashes with the political leadership in the Department of Health and Human Services. Bright pointed to his criticism for the administration’s “proactive efforts to invest early into vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives.” He also said he was resistant to “fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.” He is requesting the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the politicization of BARDA and the manner in which the government pressured the funding of those companies with political connections.
Although hydroxychloroquine has been hailed as a “game-changer” by President Trump based on anecdotal evidence from small sample reports from Europe, there are concerns the drug may not have any real clinical effect on COVID-19 patients. Just this week, a study of hydroxychloroquine showed no benefit in COVID-19 patients in an analysis of use across veteran’s hospitals. According to an Associated Press report, there were more deaths among the patients given hydroxychloroquine versus standard of care. The study was not considered rigorous nor has it been peer-reviewed. The study looked at medical records of 368 COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine. Some of the patients were treated in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin. Also this week, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued new guidelines for COVID-19 treatments. The guidelines said there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against the use of antivirals in treating COVID-19 patients. The panel advised against several treatments, including the combination of hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin, unless they were given in clinical trials, the Times said. Those drugs should be used only in clinical trials “because of the potential for toxicities.”
“I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized 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,” he said. Following his dismissal from BARDA, Bright was re-assigned to HHS to oversee the development and deployment of point-of-care COVID-19 testing platforms. Bright has hired counsel in an attempt to seek a stay his termination.