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BARDA Chief Removed for “Politics and Cronyism”

Rick Bright

Rick Bright (PHE.gov)

22 Apr. 2020. The director of the federal agency protecting against pandemics says he was removed for refusing to endorse President Trump’s preferred Covid-19 treatment. Rick Bright, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, told the New York Times he was removed from his post for resisting “efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”

The health care news web site STAT first reported yesterday that Bright is leaving his BARDA job, and reassigned to a lesser post at National Institutes of Health. Stat added that the personnel shakeup “couldn’t come at a more inopportune time for the office, which invests in drugs, devices, and other technologies that help address infectious disease outbreaks.”

In a statement today to the New York Times, Bright says …

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. I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.

Bright added, “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.” Later in the statement, Bright noted, “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.”

Because Bright is a career civil servant and not a political appointee, he was not fired outright, but reassigned to another job at NIH. Nonetheless, he asked for the inspector general at the Health and Human Services department to investigate political influences on BARDA’s work. Bright also hired lawyers known for representing whistle-blowers, who called his removal, “retaliation plain and simple.”

BARDA is a key agency responsible for emergency preparedness against biological threats including infectious disease pandemics and bio-terrorism weapons. Science & Enterprise reported on Friday that BARDA is funding later-stage clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by biotechnology company Moderna.

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