HHS Doctor Claims He Was Demoted Over Stance on Hydroxychloroquine

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
April 23, 2020Updated: April 23, 2020

A doctor who was recently demoted from directing an agency inside of the Department of Health of Human Services (HHS) says the move was made because of his stance on hydroxychloroquine, a drug being tested against COVID-19.

Dr. Rick Bright was head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an agency involved in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and analyzing existing and experimental treatments against the new disease. He was removed from his role in recent days and shifted to a position at the National Institutes of Health.

In a statement released through his attorneys Wednesday night, Bright claimed the 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 he “resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections,” singling out hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old drug that’s approved for treating malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Hydroxychloroquine has shown promise in some small studies and is being prescribed by doctors in multiple countries, including the United States. Large clinical trials are underway in America and elsewhere. It is working on some groups of veterans, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said on Wednesday.

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Researchers at the Microbiology Research Facility work with CCP virus samples as a trial begins to see whether malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine can prevent or reduce the severity of COVID-19, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 19, 2020. (Craig Lassig/Reuters)

Perception of the drug became tainted for some when President Donald Trump touted it as a possible COVID-19 treatment last month.

“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,” Bright said in his statement.

The former BARDA director said he was prepared to examine all options and think “outside the box” for effective treatments against COVID-19, but described hydroxychloroquine as “an unproven” treatment that shouldn’t be given “on demand to the American public.”

“I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician,” he said, noting that several recent studies highlighted the side effects of hydroxychloroquine and the closely related chloroquine.

Bright’s past experience includes working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the biotechnology industry, and as an adviser to the World Health Organization.

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An arrangement of hydroxychloroquine pills in Las Vegas on April 6, 2020. (John Locher/AP Photo)

Bright himself requested the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grant an emergency use authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, FDA Chief Scientist Denise Hinton said in a letter (pdf) in response to the request in March.

The agency authorized emergency use of the drugs for treatment of COVID-19 when clinical trials are not available or participation in the trials isn’t feasible.

“Based on the totality of scientific evidence available to FDA, it is reasonable to believe that chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate may be effective in treating COVID-19,” Hinton wrote.

She added: “When used under the conditions described in this authorization, the known and potential benefits of chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate when used to treat COVID-19 outweigh the known and potential risks of such products.”

A day later, HHS announced it had accepted the donation of 30 million hydroxychloroquine doses for the Strategic National Stockpile. Distribution of the doses began earlier this month.

HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley told The Epoch Times in an email that Bright requested emergency use authorization for donations of chloroquine that companies made to the stockpile. The authorization “is what made the donated product available for use in combating COVID-19,” she said.

COVID-19 is a new disease caused by the the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, a novel coronavirus that emerged in China last year.

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President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the CCP virus, which causes COVID-19, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on April 22, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Bright is requesting the inspector general of HHS probe the Trump administration’s treatment of BARDA and scientists.

He is being represented by Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, two lawyers with Democratic political connections who in 2018 represented Christine Blasey Ford, a woman whose sexual misconduct allegation against Judge Brett Kavanaugh threatened to derail his nomination to the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh was narrowly confirmed after Ford changed her story multiple times and the three people she named as possible witnesses all said they didn’t recall the situation she described. Katz later said that Ford was motivated by a desire to protect Roe v. Wade.

The lawyers in a statement described Bright’s removal as BARDA’s director as “retaliation,” calling it part of a pattern of the administration’s “refusal to listen to the experts.”

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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, with lawyer Debra Katz (L), answers questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington in September 2018. (Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

The White House referred The Epoch Times to HHS for comment.

Oakley said Bright was moving to NIH to work on development and deployment of testing platforms.

President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday: “I never heard of him. The guy says he was pushed out of a job, maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. You’d have to hear the other side.”

Following Bright’s statement, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) called for a probe into the matter.

“Dr. Bright’s abrupt reassignment raises serious questions whether the Trump administration retaliated against him for advocating for science and against Trump’s misinformation,” Markey said in a statement. “Our government’s response to the coronavirus crisis must be based on science and data, especially when it comes to recommendations of treatments during a pandemic.”