Government scientist says he was fired after concerns over malaria drug
A government scientist says he was ousted from his position after raising concerns that the Trump administration wanted to "flood" coronavirus hot spots like New York and New Jersey with a malaria drug that President Donald Trump was pushing despite scant scientific evidence it helped.
Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed the complaint Tuesday with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency responsible for whistleblower complaints. He alleges he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug favored by Trump.
Bright also said the Trump administration rejected his warnings on COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Bright said he "acted with urgency" to address the growing spread of COVID-19 after the World Health Organization issued a warning in January.
He said he "encountered resistance from HHS leadership, including Health and Human Services Secretary (Alex) Azar, who appeared intent on downplaying this catastrophic event."
Bright alleges in the complaint that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services had tried to promote hydroxychloroquine "as a panacea." The officials also "demanded that New York and New Jersey be ‘flooded’ with these drugs, which were imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the FDA," the complaint says.
But Bright opposed broad use of the drug, arguing the scientific evidence wasn’t there to back up its use in coronavirus patients. He felt an urgent need to tell the public that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to support using the drugs for COVID-19 patients, the complaint states.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors against prescribing the drug except in hospitals and research studies. In an alert, regulators flagged reports of sometimes fatal heart side effects among coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine.
The decades-old drugs, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a number of side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.