Hydroxychloroquine and coronavirus: US vaccine expert was ousted for urging caution
The doctor who led the federal agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine said he was removed because he resisted efforts to push hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as cures for COVID-19.
The director of a key US agency involved in developing a coronavirus vaccine has said that he was ousted earlier this week because he pushed for careful vetting of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug embraced by President Donald Trump as a “game changer” in fight againt the virus, and that the administration has put “politics and cronyism ahead of science”.
Dr Rick Bright was abruptly replaced as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and reassigned to a new role because he resisted efforts to push hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as cures for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
According to the New York Times, he was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health.
"While I am prepared to look at all options and to think 'outside the box' for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public," Bright said in the statement, reported by multiple US media outlets on Wednesday.
Bright said the US government has promoted the medicines as a "panacea" even though they "clearly lack scientific merit". He has retained a law firm, Katz, Marshall & Banks, known for representing whistleblowers.
US top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said he had heard that in his new role, Bright would be responsible for the development of diagnostics, a "very, very important" issue.
Bright, an expert in vaccines and therapeutics, was named BARDA's director in 2016 before Trump took office as President.
Trump has repeatedly promoted chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as potential treatments for COVID-19, including saying early this month: "I may take it," even though doctors said the drugs' effectiveness were unproven and further tests were required. When asked about Bright's case at a media briefing on Tuesday, Trump said he was not familiar with the official.
"I never heard of him. A guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was maybe, he wasn't. You'd have to hear the other side," he said.
In the absence of any known effective treatments, doctors on the frontlines said they began using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine on deteriorating patients based on a few small studies suggesting a possible benefit.
Some said they had come under pressure from patients to use the therapies widely touted by Trump and other supporters.