BARDA chief turned whistleblower Rick Bright resigns from government with one last broadside against the Trump administration
Rick Bright, the federal vaccines official turned whistleblower, resigned from the government yesterday, firing a final charge of political meddling at the Trump Administration as he departed.
Bright had led BARDA for 4 years before being suddenly removed from the post in April, just as the once little-known agency was gearing up for what would ultimately be a more than $10 billion effort to accelerate vaccines and therapeutics for one of the worst pandemics in modern history. In subsequent statements, whistleblower complaints, and congressional testimony, he alleged that he was ousted for resisting a plan to mass distribute hydroxychloroquine — a Trump-touted drug that has since repeatedly proven ineffective — to hard-hit areas and described an extended history of political interference in agency decision-making.
The Trump Administration said at the time they would place Bright at the NIH, where he would help lead Covid-19 diagnostic efforts. But in an amended whistleblower complaint, Bright said that he was stymied in those efforts by political concerns and had been “given no meaningful work” since he completed that job on Sept. 4.
“Dr. Bright was forced to leave his position at NIH because he can no longer sit idly by and work for an administration that ignores scientific expertise, overrules public health guidance and disrespects career scientists, resulting in the sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Bright’s attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Bank, said in a statement. “NIH leadership declined to support Dr. Bright’s recommendations because of political considerations, plain and simple.”
Bright said he was tasked to help lead the NIH’s RADx initiative to scale up new Covid-19 diagnostics. He said he completed that work and proposed a plan that would have helped set up a national testing infrastructure involving large amounts of 24-hour, point-of-care tests in hospitals, schools and nursing homes and low-cost, home-based tests — a set of recommendations that outside public health experts have repeatedly called for.
NIH Director Francis Collins rejected these recommendations, Bright said, out of concern the Trump Administration wouldn’t accept broad-based testing and that it might step on the toes of work within HHS.
“While Dr. Collins’s timidity to push Dr. Bright’s plan forward is understandable given the pervasive fear within HHS and among career scientists,” the amended complaint says, “Dr. Bright was aghast that Dr. Collins refused to support the implementation of an aggressive and coherent national testing strategy because of political considerations and fear of the Administration’s response.”
Bright said he requested to work on Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics under Operation Warp Speed in September after completing the NIH work but received no response.
The amended complaint also disclosed that Bright dealt with an aggressive skin cancer over the summer and required a series of surgeries and chemotherapy treatments.
The Office of Special Counsel has recommended Bright be reinstated as BARDA chief pending completion of an investigation. The White House has ignored that recommendation.`