The findings of the Office of the Special Advocate were released just before Rick Bright, who filed a whistleblower complaint, began testifying before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health, on the circumstances of his involuntary transfer.
“I think we could have done better,” said Mr. Bright, when asked by the chair of the committee, Representative Anna Eshoo, D-California, if the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic has been unsuccessful.
“I believe there have been crucial steps that we have not taken,” said Bright, who was removed from his post as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority last month after resisting efforts to increase access to hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug promoted by the President. Donald Trump as a possible treatment for Covid-19.
Bright, who says there are safety concerns with the drug, was later transferred to a position with less responsibility at the National Institutes of Health, another division of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Bright also warned on Thursday that Covid-19 could seriously outweigh the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people.
Before Bright began his testimony, Eshoo noted that Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Trump’s business advisor Peter Navarro had refused an invitation to appear at the hearing. Bright Whistleblower complaint says Navarro “clearly shared Dr. Bright’s concerns about the potential devastation the United States could face from coronavirus and asked Dr. Bright to identify the supply chain and medical countermeasures most critical to deal with ”in February.
Bright told lawmakers on Thursday that he and other federal health officials had “worked hard” to resist the pressure to allow a significant increase in the use of hydroxychloroquine, obtaining its use for Covid- patients 19 under an emergency use permit “with strict guidelines”.
But he said that “his concerns intensified when I learned that the authorities were pressuring to make this medicine available outside of this emergency authorization.”
When he expressed these concerns outside the government, “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back … and led to my dismissal,” said Bright.
He then said, “The highest priority we have is security. “
Bright noted that there are known side effects from the drug, including irregular heartbeat, and cautioned against using anecdotal evidence of limited use of hydroxychloroquine and chlorquine in Covid patients -19.
“We had no evidence of how these safety concerns would manifest in people with this virus,” said Bright, explaining his resistance to the widespread adoption of these drugs.
But several Republican committee members have suggested that the use of these drugs for Covid-19 patients may be warranted, although there is no conclusive evidence as to their effectiveness.
Hydroxychloroquine does not seem to help hospital patients with Covid-19, according to an observational study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In his whistleblower complaint, Bright alleged that HHS employees and his office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response “engaged in behavior that may constitute violations of the law, rules or regulations; serious mismanagement; blatant waste of funds; abuse of power ; a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety; and censorship related to scientific research, “OSC noted in a letter to Bright published Thursday by its lawyers.
“We emphasize that, although the CSO has found a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing based on the information you have submitted in support of your allegations, your referral to the Secretary for investigation is not a final decision that the allegations are substantiated, “said the letter from the CSO.
The monitoring agency said the allegations remain under investigation until its final report is submitted to the president and Congress.
Bright lawyers last week said the CSO had told them that the investigation had already found evidence that Bright had been ousted at the head of a health organization for opposing the increasing use hydroxychloroquine.
And the attorneys said the CSO plans to ask the HHS to suspend his dismissal from BARDA management pending the outcome of the investigation.
The Department of Health and Human Services, in an emailed statement, said, “Rick Bright has been transferred from his role as director of BARDA to lead a bold new billion dollar testing program at NIH, essential to save lives and reopen America. ”
“Mr. Bright has not yet reported for work but continues to receive his salary of $ 285,010, while using his taxpayer-funded medical leave to work with partisan lawyers who politicize the response to COVID-19” , says the press release.
“His whistleblower complaint is full of one-sided arguments and misinformation. HHS is investigating the complaint and strongly disagrees with the allegations and characterizations made by Rick Bright. “
HHS also said that it was under Bright’s leadership that BARDA identified chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as potential Covid-19 treatments.
“Rick Bright was the sponsor of hydroxychloroquine and congratulated his team on purchasing the drugs,” said HHS.
Trump clicked Bright on Twitter Thursday morning before testimony began.
“I don’t know the so-called whistleblower Rick Bright, I have never met him or even heard of him,” Trump tweeted.
“But to me, he is a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by the people I spoke to and who, with his attitude, should no longer work for our government! Trump wrote.
But House committee chair Eshoo said the federal response to the coronavirus epidemic has been “disastrous.”
Eshoo also said, “Dr. Bright has filed one of the most specific and disturbing whistleblower complaints I have ever seen. He was the right person with the right judgment at the right time. He was not only ignored, he was fired for being straight. “
“We cannot have a system where the government dismisses those who succeed and rewards those who are completely wrong,” said Eshoo.
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