A US government scientist has claimed he was fired from his role after resisting President Donald Trump’s push to “flood” coronavirus hotspots with a malaria drug.
Without hard evidence that hydroxychloroquine worked, Rick Bright said he could not toe the President’s line that it served as a remedy for coronavirus sufferers.
Mr Bright alleged he was assigned to a lesser job after resisting political pressure to allow for the drug’s widespread use.
His comments come as US Vice-President Mike Pence confirmed the White House was planning on slowly winding down the work of the Coronavirus Task Force.
The Trump administration is having discussions about transitioning task force members to other federal agencies. That includes prominent infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci.
Mr Bright was director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority – until, he said, he raised his eyebrows about hydroxychloroquine.
He has since filed a complaint with the US Office of Special Counsel, a government agency responsible for whistleblower complaints.
Government officials had demanded that New York and New Jersey be “flooded” with the drug, which were imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the US Food and Drug Administration, according to the complaint.
Last month, the FDA warned doctors against prescribing the drug except in hospitals and research studies.
In an alert, regulators flagged reports of sometimes fatal heart side effects among coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine.
The decades-old drug, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause various side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.
Coronavirus task force to gradually phase out
It may only be weeks until the coronavirus task force is wrapped up, despite some regions in the US experiencing a plateau in coronavirus infections and deaths.
Olivia Troye, a top adviser to Mr Pence, oversees the task force, of which Dr Fauci is a key member. She said senior officials had been told to expect the group to be phased out, The New York Times reported.
At a media briefing on Wednesday (Australian time), Mr Pence confirmed that, adding that the Trump administration was looking at an early June shutdown because “of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country”.
A senior White House official told CNN the group “will be phased down around Memorial Day (May 25)”.
“We will continue to have key medical experts advising [Mr Trump] daily and accessible to press throughout the coming months ahead,” the unidentified official said.
New forecasts project nearly 135,000 coronavirus deaths in the US by early August, according to a report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
The revised projections almost double the number of predicted deaths since the last estimate in mid-April.
Mr Trump rejected the projected death toll saying “that’s a report with no mitigation”.
“So based on no mitigation, but we’re doing a lot of mitigation,” he said.
“Frankly, when the people report back, they’re going to be social distancing and they’re going to be washing their hands, and they’re going to be doing the things that you’re supposed to do.
“We won’t be going into stadiums full bore yet, you know, for events and soccer and football and all of the different events – baseball. I hope baseball can get going.”