Trump administration ‘ignored virus warnings and pushed unproven drug’

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The Trump administration failed to prepare for the onslaught of coronavirus, then sought a quick fix by trying to rush an unproven drug to patients, a senior government scientist has alleged in a whistleblower complaint.

Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, alleges he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug pushed by Donald Trump.

He said the Trump administration wanted to “flood” hot spots in New York and New Jersey with the drug.

Rick Bright
Rick Bright (Health and Human Services/AP)

“I witnessed government leadership rushing blindly into a potentially dangerous situation by bringing in a non-FDA (Food and Drink Administration) approved chloroquine from Pakistan and India, from facilities that had never been approved by the FDA,” Dr Bright said.

“Their eagerness to push blindly forward without sufficient data to put this drug into the hands of Americans was alarming to me and my fellow scientists.”

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He filed the complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that investigates retaliation against federal employees who uncover problems. He wants his job back and a full investigation.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a terse statement saying Dr Bright was transferred to the National Institutes of Health to work on coronavirus testing, a crucial assignment.

“We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work on behalf of the American people and lead on this critical endeavour,” HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley said.

According to HHS, Dr Bright has not reported to his new post. His spokesperson said he is on sick leave, following doctor’s orders, and that HHS has provided him no details on his new role.

Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi called the complaint ‘very damaging’ (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Dr Bright’s complaint comes as the Trump administration faces criticism over its response to the pandemic, including testing and supplies of ventilators, masks and other equipment to stem the spread.

There have been nearly 1.2 million confirmed cases in the US and more than 70,000 deaths.

Dr Bright said his superiors repeatedly rejected his warnings that the virus would spread in the US, missing an early opportunity to stock up on protective masks for first responders.

He said he “acted with urgency” to address the growing spread of Covid-19 — the disease the virus causes — after the World Health Organisation issued a warning in January.

Anna Eshoo, chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, said she plans to hold a hearing into his complaint next week, and Dr Bright’s lawyers said he would give evidence.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi, appearing on MSNBC, called the complaint “very damaging”.

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