A doctor in the Trump administration told the New York Times Wednesday that he was removed from key positions because he pushed stringent tests of the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by President Donald Trump as a potential miracle cure for COVID-19 despite severely limited evidence.
Dr. Rick Bright had been the director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority since 2016 and the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Times explained. Now he'll only serve in a "limited role" at the National Institutes of Health, reporter Maggie Haberman said.
His lawyers called the change in his position "retaliation plain and simple."
Trump has repeatedly pushed hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus infections, urging the federal government to pursue it even while many other potential therapeutics also show promise. He has even suggested people to take it themselves, in consultation with a doctor, and indicated without evidence that it could be used prophylactically. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top health official on the coronavirus task force, has repeatedly pushed back against Trump's optimism and called the evidence supporting the drug's use thin.
"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," Dr. Bright told the Times. "I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way."
My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this — to confront and defeat a deadly virus that threatens Americans and people around the globe. To this point, I have led the government's efforts to invest in the best science available to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, this resulted in clashes with H.H.S. political leadership, including criticism for my proactive efforts to invest early into vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives. I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.
"Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit," he continued. "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."
He also said he would "request that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit."
In recent days, Trump seems to have backed off somewhat in his advocacy for the drug, though he hasn't retracted any of his previous claims.