- House Democrats are calling for an investigation into the sudden dismissal of a top government vaccine official, who claims he was ousted after disagreeing with President Trump on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.
- Dr. Rick Bright says he was removed as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services.
- He claims it’s because he pushed back on touting hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for patients infected with the coronavirus.
- Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) has called for Bright and Health and Human Services Secretary to testify before the health subcommittee she chairs, while Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sent a letter to HHS’ inspector general demanding an investigation.
- Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed on Friday it should be looked into.
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House Democrats have begun to call for hearings into the dismissal of top government vaccine official who said he was ousted from his post after disagreeing with President Trump on unproven treatments for the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Rick Bright wrote in a statement Wednesday that he was abruptly removed from two key government roles because he refused to support the controversial and unproven use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. For weeks, Trump repeatedly touted the drug on Twitter and from the White House podium, though these endorsements have subsided after studies began to show that the drug was not an optimal method of treatment.
Prior to his dismissal, Bright was director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services. BARDA is directly involved with finding a vaccine for the coronavirus, an endeavor key to protecting millions of Americans and allowing some semblance of normal life to return.
On Thursday, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat who chairs the House’s Health subcommittee, said she wanted Bright to testify before Congress. The next day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed that “it has to be looked into.”
“I think the American people deserve to hear Dr. Bright’s story,” Eshoo, who helped create BARDA, told CNN. “He really has worked for the American people — they are the ones who have paid his salary. A thoroughbred professional — and to set him aside in one of the most key positions to develop vaccines in the midst of the pandemic? The story doesn’t make sense to me. So I think it deserves examination.”
“I don’t know where this began, why, who where, when, why,” she said, “But I think it deserves to be examined and the story told.”
Eshoo also said she wanted to hear from HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and one of his supervisors, Dr. Robert P. Kadlec, on the matter of Bright’s dismissal, the New York Times reported.
The timeline for such hearings is currently unclear, as Congress works to find ways to conduct its normal business safely during the coronavirus pandemic. Representatives had dispersed for several weeks until Thursday, when they returned to vote on a $484 billion aid package to primarily aimed at shoring up small businesses.
Meanwhile, Rep. Frank Pallone, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote to HHS’s inspector general demanding an investigation into Bright’s dismissal.
Bright, whose former agency is nested under the Department of Health and Human Services, now holds a narrower position at the National Institutes of Health, the Times reported.
“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” Bright said in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”
Bright claims he was specifically sidelined because he “limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit” and “resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public.”
He instead insisted that the drugs only be administered to hospitalized patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19, under the supervision of a doctor.
Asked about Bright’s claims at Wednesday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing, Trump said he “never heard of him.”
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned against the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients outside of a hospital or clinical setting due to a risk of hearth rhythm issues.