It was widely reported on April 22 that a doctor who led the federal agency tasked with developing a vaccine against COVID-19 was removed from his post after expressing doubt in the effectiveness and safety of a treatment touted by President Donald Trump.
Dr. Rick Bright was until April 22 the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is working on developing a vaccine against the coronavirus causing COVID-19.
The New York Times reported he was abruptly reassigned to “a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health” after insisting that the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine – a drug used to treat patients with lupus, malaria, and other diseases – should be thoroughly investigated before being widely accepted to work against COVID-19.
Dr. Bright’s dismissal came a month after the president’s tweet that hydroxychloroquine was a “game changer” against COVID-19 when taken with azithromycin. Almost immediately, the suggestion drove a swift surge in demand for hydroxychloroquine that came at the expense of lupus patients who suddenly found themselves unable to refill their prescriptions.
Almost as quickly as the demand for hydroxychloroquine exploded did doubt arise from scientists and doctors about its efficacy against COVID-19. Early studies in France and China that demonstrated the drug could be effective against COVID-19 have largely been refuted by the medical and scientific communities, citing problems with the studies and conclusions drawn from their data.
Dr. Bright’s voice was among the voices calling for skeptical inquiry before embracing hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19. After sharply criticizing his transfer as placing “politics and cronyism ahead of science,” Bright said he intended to file a federal whistleblower retaliation complaint.
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