Federal researcher and vaccine development expert Rick Bright says he was removed from his position in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) after objecting to the agency’s efforts to push the use of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.
“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,” he said in a statement to The New York Times.
Bright directed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) at HHS, which focuses on developing drugs for emergency situations like global pandemics. They’ve been central to the COVID-19 response and have partnerships with drug companies working on treatments and vaccines. Bright was moved to a new position in the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
He said in his statement that he pushed back on calls to make chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — which are usually used to treat malaria, lupus, and arthritis — widely available to people who aren’t hospitalized with the novel coronavirus. There is no evidence that those drugs (or any drugs) are safe and effective treatments for COVID-19, but President Trump spent the last month promoting their use.
“It’s a very strong, powerful medicine, but it doesn’t kill people. We have some very good results and some very good tests,” Trump said in an April 5th press briefing.
Researchers are still studying hydroxychloroquine, and it’s part of an ongoing global trial through the World Health Organization. But while there was some early data that showed it may help patients with COVID-19, other studies showed that it didn’t offer any benefit — and might cause dangerous side effects.
“I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Bright said in his statement. “I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician.”
NIH treatment guidelines say there is not enough data to recommend either for or against the use of these medications. They say that patients should not take a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, an antibiotic, outside of the context of clinical trials.
Bright has worked at BARDA since 2010. He is not a political appointee.
“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 said.