The Trump administration failed to prepare for the coronavirus attack, then sought a quick fix by attempting to bring an unproven drug to patients, a senior government scientist said in a whistleblower complaint Tuesday.
Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, claims that he has been reassigned to a lesser role in opposing political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug under pressure from President Donald Trump. stand. He said the Trump administration wanted to “flood” hotspots in New York and New Jersey with the drug.
“I saw government leadership blindly end up in a potentially dangerous situation by bringing in non-FDA-approved chloroquine from Pakistan and India from facilities that had never been approved by the FDA,” Bright said on a phone call Tuesday reporters. “Their eagerness to go forward blindly without enough data to hand this drug into Americans was disturbing to me and my fellow scientists.”
Bright filed the complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency investigating retaliation against federal workers who uncover problems. He wants his job back and a full investigation.
The Department of Health and Human Services had no immediate comments. Zachary Kurz, a spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, said the agency was unable to comment or confirm the status of open investigations.
Representative Anna Eshoo (Democrat-California), chair of the health and trade subcommittee on the House of Health, said there will be a hearing on the complaint next week. Bright’s lawyers said he would testify.
His complaint is because the Trump administration is criticized for its response to the pandemic, including testing and supplying fans, masks and other equipment to prevent the spread. There are nearly 1.2 million confirmed cases in the United States and more than 70,000 deaths.
Bright said his superiors repeatedly dismissed his warnings that the virus would spread in the U.S., missing an early opportunity to stock protective masks for first responders. He said he “acted urgently” to address the growing spread of Covid-19 – the disease causing the virus – after the World Health Organization issued a warning in January.
Bright said he “faced resistance from HHS leadership, including the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Alex) Azar, who set out to downplay this catastrophic event.”
At a meeting on February 23, Azar, as well as Bright’s boss, Deputy Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, “astonished (Bright’s) terrible predictions and urgency, claiming that the United States could contain the virus and keep it outside, “said the whistleblower complaint.
Bright said White House trade advisor Peter Navarro was a rare exception among government officials, deeply concerned about the potential consequences of an outbreak. He described working with Navarro to break a bureaucratic log jam and set up military transportation from Italy for cotton swabs needed in the U.S.
Navarro was the author of several urgent White House memos. Bright said Navarro asked for his help and said the trade advisor told him the memos were needed to “save lives.”
Navarro’s memos to top officials raised the alarm, even as Trump publicly assured Americans that the outbreak was under control.
Bright’s claim that he was removed due to his resistance to the widespread use of the malaria drug was already public, but his whistleblower added details from emails and internal communications, uncovering his attempts to acquire N95 respirators early, of which he said they were being ignored by superiors.
In late January, Bright said he was approached by an official from a leading mask manufacturer about ramping up production. It was estimated that as much as 3.5 billion would be needed, while the national stock had about 300 million.
The complaint stated that Bright was being ignored or rejected when Bright attempted to raise the issue of super masks with HHS. “HHS publicly represented not only that Covid-19 was not an immediate threat, but also that HHS already had all the masks it would need,” the complaint said.
As the epidemic spread in the U.S. and flooded the New York metropolitan area, Bright claims that political officials at HHS attempted 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 said.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors about prescribing the drug, except in hospitals and research studies. In a warning, regulators flagged reports of sometimes fatal heart side effects in coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine.
Bright found that officials “refused to listen or take appropriate measures to accurately inform the public” and spoke to a reporter about the drug. He said he should tell the public about the lack of science that supports its use, despite the fact that the president was forced by the president during press conferences.
“As the death toll increased exponentially every day, Dr. Bright concluded that he had a moral obligation to the American public, including those vulnerable to Covid-19 disease, to protect it from drugs he believed to be a Substantial and specific threat to public health and safety, “said the complaint.
On January 20, according to the complaint, the WHO made an emergency call attended by many HHS officials, and WHO officials said that “the outbreak is a major problem.”
Trump has accused the UN agency of mismanagement and obscuring the spread of the virus after it surfaced in China. He also said he wants to cut WHO funding.
Bright’s agency is working to guard against pandemics and emerging infectious diseases and is developing a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Top executives also pressured him to send contracts to a lobbyist’s client, he reported.
Time and time again, I was pressured to ignore or reject scientific recommendations from experts and instead award lucrative contracts based on political connections, Bright said in the call to reporters. “In other words, I was pressured to let politicians and boyfriends decide the opinions of the best scientists we have in government.”