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Ousted vaccine expert Rick Bright files whistleblower complaint

Posted at 1:21 PM, May 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 15:21:35-04

Dr. Rick Bright, the vaccine expert who said he was removed from his position at the Health and Human Services Department after he tried to limit COVID-19 treatments involving hydoxychloroquine and chloroquine touted by President Trump, filed a whistleblower complaint Tuesday.

The complaint says he was removed as director of Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority soon after the publication of an article about chloroquine. Bright admits in the complaint that he was a source for the story.

According to the complaint filed by his lawyers, Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks, Bright felt he needed to inform the public "that there was insufficient scientific data to support the use of these drugs for COVID-19 patients," especially because they were imported from overseas factories that were not FDA-inspected.

Government officials, he said, "refused to listen" or take action to inform the public, so Bright opted to talk to a journalist. Bright confirmed information for the reporter and "provided corroborating documentation," which he knew would put him "at odds" with HHS leadership. But he believed that he had a moral obligation to do what he could to protect the public "from drugs which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety."

The documents provided were "not privileged or classified" and they mention the possible toxicity of the drugs, and the "political pressure" to procure these drugs from Pakistan and India.

Soon after the article about chloroquine was published, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Bright's supervisor, Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, removed him as BARDA director "because they suspected he was the source," the complaint says.

President Trump has referred to hydroxychloroquine as a potential "game-changer" in treating COVID-19 and has recommended the use of the antimalarial drug as a potential treatment, despite limited evidence of the drug's efficacy.

Recently asked about Bright, Mr. Trump has said he doesn't know him and until recently "never heard" of him.

In mid-April, the Trump administration granted chloroquine an Emergency Use Authorization, an FDA authority that allows unapproved medical products to be used in medical emergencies. HHS political leadership directed Bright to implement he EUA.

Now at the National Institutes of Health in a role he considers to have less impact, Bright is hoping that after his case is heard, he can be reinstated as BARDA's director and resume his work on COVID-19 "without further political pressure or distractions."