As the country fights its way through an unprecedented health pandemic, the Trump Administration is shaking up the very office charged with developing a coronavirus vaccine. On Wednesday, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) said he was pushed out of his job for blowing the whistle on a medication that Trump often touted as a possible treatment for COVID-19. The impeached president said he never heard of him.

“I’ve never heard of him. When did this happen?” Trump asked when a White House reporter made an appeal for him to weigh in on Bright’s departure.”I never heard of him,” he continued. “Guy says he was pushed out of a job; maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.”

In a lengthy statement widely circulated on social media, Rick Bright, Ph.D., who led BARDA, a division of the Health and Human Services office since 2016, said that he had been reassigned after insisting that Congress invest money into “safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit.” Specifically, Bright was concerned about the amount of funding that had gone into hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by Trump, a man who has a professional background in real estate.

“I have spent my entire career in vaccine development, in the government with CDC and BARDA and also in the biotechnology industry,” Bright says. “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 HHS political leadership, including criticism for my proactive efforts to invest early in vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives. I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”

Chloroquine, a drug the director of BARDA refused to promote
NANTONG, CHINA – FEBRUARY 27, 2020: An employee checks the production of chloroquine phosphate, resumed after a 15-year break, in a pharmaceutical company in Nantong city in east China’s Jiangsu province Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. Chloroquine phosphate, an old drug for the treatment of malaria, has shown some efficacy and acceptable safety against COVID-19-associated pneumonia in trials, according to Chinese media.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Just this week, a study of 368 patients in Virginia showed that hydroxychloroquine had no medical benefit when being used to treat coronavirus. Researchers reported that there were more deaths among those given the drug versus those who received standard care. This, after multiple attempts from Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health officials to clarify that the drug had not proved itself to work. Bright says the promotion of it by the administration lacked “scientific merit.”

Bright is petitioning the inspector general of the HHS to investigate what he’s considering a demotion. “Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” the former director of BARDA believes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told CNN that Bright will now lead a new government project on vaccine development and treatment.

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