A US government scientist has alleged he was ousted after he raised concerns about COVID-19 and a malaria drug pushed by Donald Trump.
Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed a whistleblower complaint which claims he was demoted after speaking out.
The complaint says he was pressured to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug favoured by the US president despite a lack of evidence that it worked.
He claimed the Trump administration wanted to “flood” hotspots in New York and New Jersey with the drug, which had been imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by US regulators.
Mr Bright opposed the use of the drug and felt an urgent need to tell the public there was not scientific evidence to back up its use in coronavirus patients, the complaint states.
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Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned against prescribing the drug except in hospitals and research studies.
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Regulators flagged some reports of fatal heart side effects in coronavirus patients given hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine.
The drugs are usually prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and in some cases can cause side effects such as heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.
The complaint says: “As the death toll mounted exponentially each day, Dr Bright concluded that he had a moral obligation to the American public, including those vulnerable as a result of illness from COVID-19, to protect it from drugs which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.”
He had felt officials “refused to listen or take appropriate action to accurately inform the public” and spoke to a journalist about his concerns.
Mr Bright also said his early warnings on COVID-19 had gone ignored.
His complaint states he “acted with urgency” to address the spread of coronavirus following the World Health Organisation’s warning in January.
However he said he “encountered resistance from HHS leadership, including Health and Human Services Secretary [Alex] Azar, who appeared intent on downplaying this catastrophic event.”
Mr Azar had “responded with surprise at [Bright’s] dire predictions and urgency, and asserted that the United States would be able to contain the virus and keep it out,” the whistleblower complaint said.
The Trump administration has faced criticism for its handling of the pandemic, including supplies of medical equipment and plans to ease lockdown restrictions in a number of states.
There have been nearly 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and more than 70,000 deaths.