Ousted US Vaccine Chief Preps Whistleblower Claims Over Trump-Touted Drug

This photo shows an arrangement of hydroxychloroquine pills. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(CN) — Attorneys for Rick Bright, the former head of a key U.S. agency spearheading vaccine development in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, announced Thursday that their claims of a White House campaign to oust their client for resisting political pressure and cronyism will be revealed in a whistleblower complaint.

“In our filing we will make clear that Dr. Bright was sidelined for one reason only — because he resisted efforts to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine, a drug promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which is untested and possibly deadly when used improperly,” attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said in a statement Thursday. “The facts and concerns raised by Dr. Bright are compelling and well-documented and soon they will be public.”

The lawyers signaled that the complaint, which was not immediately available, will be filed with the Office of Special Counsel and the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services. The office did not immediately respond to emails requesting comment.

President Donald Trump quickly distanced himself from Bright on Wednesday night, shortly after the career government scientist first made his allegations public.

“I never heard of him,” Trump told reporters at the press briefing. “If a guy says he was pushed out of a job maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. You would have to hear the other side. I don’t know him.”

Trump’s denial is remarkable considering Bright led Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is taking the lead on vaccine development in response to the pandemic and that generally protects the United States from biological, nuclear or chemical attacks.

Health and Human Services, its umbrella agency, quickly mounted a counterattack, depicting Bright as an advocate for the antimalaria drug he now says has been inappropriately promoted out of politics and cronyism.

“As it relates to chloroquine, it was Dr. Bright who requested an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for donations of chloroquine that Bayer and Sandoz recently made to the Strategic National Stockpile for use on Covid-19 patients,” spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley wrote in an email. “The EUA is what made the donated product available for use in combating Covid-19.”

Bright’s attorneys denounced what they suggested is a campaign of misinformation against their client.

“The administration is now making demonstrably false statements about Dr. Bright, one of the nation’s leading vaccine, drug and diagnostic experts, to deflect attention from its retaliatory removal of him as the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority,” Katz and Banks wrote.

“Dr. Bright has been an exemplary public servant as demonstrated by the multiple excellent performance reviews he has received to date,” their statement continues. “It remains Dr. Bright’s sincerest hope that once he makes these facts known he will be reinstated to his role as director of BARDA and that he will be able to focus his efforts on stopping the pandemic without further political pressure or distractions.”

Bright bemoaned what he called an involuntary transfer to a more limited post at the National Institutes of Health, where he will work on the development and deployment of novel point-of-care testing platforms.

“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 safety and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Bright said Wednesday.

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