Whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright is accusing the Donald Trump administration of some troubling accusations in a complaint he filed Tuesday. He says that the botched actions of officials could’ve exacerbated the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Daily Beast, Bright helmed the government’s efforts to find a vaccine for the coronavirus before getting reassigned to a position at the National Institute of Health. During his time working with administration officials, Bright described a staggering degree of inaction in January from a group bracing for a historic pandemic. Bright served as a program leader within the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and he says he raised concerns early on about a shortage of supply chains such as the surgical masks. While some people inside the administration shared his sentiments, particularly Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro, others did not.
Soon, Bright says he was excluded from a meeting on COVID, even though the agenda for the meeting showed him as a participant.
Bright listed his opposition as Dr. Robert Kadlec, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). Bright says Kadlec turned down the coordination of senior level meetings in mid-January as the virus spread across China, suggesting that he was “[n]ot sure if that is a time sensitive urgency.”
Bright says HHS Secretary Alex Azar was also slow to act by insisting that the U.S. could keep the virus from spreading domestically.
“Secretary Azar further indicated that the CDC would look at the issue of travel bans to keep the virus contained,” Bright’s complaint reads. “Dr. Bright responded that virus ‘might already be here. We just don’t have the tests to know one way or the other.’ Dr. Bright’s comments were met with skepticism and were clearly not welcome.”
Bright says one of his biggest frustrations was surrounding the procurement of masks, which he said he realized early on that they would be a critical need during the coronavirus pandemic. Bright explained that on January 21, 2020, Mike Bowen, co-owner and Executive Vice President of domestic surgical mask producer Prestige Ameritech, emailed him that the Department of Homeland Security had reached out to him about obtaining masks. Bright said that he brought up Bowen’s concerns internally about getting production of N95 masks underway. However, for weeks nobody took action, causing Bowen to email again, “I think we’re in deep shit.”
According to the Associated Press, Bright filed his complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that handles whistleblower complaints. In the complaint, Bowen also brought up a malaria drug Trump was pushing to treat the coronavirus despite little evidence that i helped.
He says political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services had tried to promote hydroxychloroquine “as a panacea.” He says in the complaint, the officials also “demanded that New York and New Jersey be ‘flooded’ with these drugs, which were imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the FDA.”
Bright says he opposed broad use of the drug because scientific evidence wasn’t present to back up its use in coronavirus patients. Bright says he felt an urgent obligation to tell the public, however, officials had “refused to listen or take appropriate action to accurately inform the public” and he spoke to a reporter who was writing a story about the drug.
He said, despite it being pushed by the president as press briefings, he had to notify the public “to protect it from drugs which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” the complaint reads.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautioned doctors against prescribing the drug except in hospitals and research studies. Some regulators flagged reports of occasional fatal heart side effects among coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine. The decades-old drugs, which are also prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, can cause various side effects, including severely low blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, and muscle and nerve damage.
Bright’s whistleblower complaint comes as Black and brown people continue to be disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Along with preventative measures he says could’ve been taken, activists and advocates are still slamming federal and state governments for their inaction when it comes to addressing the needs of the most affected communities.