HHS Scientist Leading COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts Reassigned
On April 22, 2020, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Dr. Rick Bright told the New York Times that he had been dismissed from his position after he pressed for rigorous vetting of a coronavirus treatment embraced by President Trump.
An expert in vaccine development, Dr. Bright had led BARDA (which responsible for developing a coronavirus vaccine) since 2016, and served as the Department of Health and Human Services' deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response since 2018. On April 21, 2020, Dr. Bright was dismissed from those roles and reassigned to work with the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Bright told the Times that he believed the transfer was made in response to his 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 into drugs or vaccines that lack scientific merit. In particular, Dr. Bright had pushed back on what he called the administration’s “misguided directives” for the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine before scientific testing of their efficacy with the coronavirus.
When asked at his daily briefing whether Dr. Bright had been forced out, Mr. Trump said, “[m]aybe he was and maybe he wasn’t; I don’t know who he is.” A spokeswoman for Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Dr. Bright has called for an investigation into his reassignement by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Rick Bright filed an amended whistleblower complaint on October 6, 2020 after resigning from his position at the NIH. Upon leaving the NIH Dr. Bright indicated that he had been assigned no meaningful work for several weeks and viewed the lack of work a "constructive discharge." Upon review of the whistleblower complaint, the Office of Special Counsel recommended that Dr. Bright be reinstated to his previous position at BARDA, but HHS ignored that recommendation. On November 9, 2021, Dr. Bright joined then President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisory board.