Rick Bright, a government scientist who was director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, had warned early on that trying to prevent the coronavirus from coming here was futile and that instead the country needed to quickly start taking steps to meet the inevitable challenge by ordering the necessary supplies to test for and treat the disease. The administration did not like what he was saying and he was reassigned to a different area that did not require his expertise. So he became a whistleblower and his lawyer Debra Katz describes what happened.
My top line is that Dr. Bright is internationally recognized for his work in this area. He’s one of the nation’s leading experts in pandemic preparedness and response. He should be at his desk today, working to keep all of us safe. And instead, he was moved – stripped of his duties, moved out of this vital role and put in a job that, to this date, has no duties and responsibilities because he objected to efforts by the administration to, essentially, sell snake oil to promote chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a panacea when they knew it wasn’t.
Several days after Reuters ran an article that criticized the administration’s promotion of these drugs, the administration concluded that he was probably the source of those allegations. And they removed him from a role that he had been doing an outstanding job in. He had also clashed with the administration repeatedly when he objected to steering contracts to cronies of the HHS leadership rather than promoting real clients.
And lastly, he clashed with Secretary Azar when he said at the very beginning of this pandemic that this is coming to America. This idea of containing this virus is not going to work, and we need to be ready. And he was removed from those meetings when he acted with a great deal of urgency
And when he came to the meeting, he said specifically, we are not ready, but we can get ahead of this. We are lacking crucial supplies, for example, masks – N95 masks. There’s already been a study that this country needed 3.5 billion masks for medical personnel and first responders to be able to meet the medical needs and the needs of people if they got sick. And we have 100 million. That is a huge shortfall.
And he raised these issues and said, we need money. We need to start actively going after this to develop vaccines. And he was never allowed to go to those meetings again. He was told when he was – when he questioned why he was not allowed to go to those meetings, that he, quote, “caused a s**tstorm in his meeting with Secretary Azar.” He did not like what he had to say. And one of the things he said is this policy of containment is not going to work. This virus is coming here, and it may already be in this country. And instead, we need to be ready and combat it and fight hard. And he was removed from those meetings, so that – at their first interaction, that’s what happened.
As we detailed in the complaint, Dr. Kadlec steered contracts to friends of his over the objections of scientists who were studying these same proposals, where – a panel of scientists would look at two competing drugs and say, Drug A is the better drug. This is what we should purchase for our national stockpile. Instead, Dr. Kadlec ignored the recommendations for these drugs of these experts and scientists and, instead, steered contracts to those with whom he had prior contacts, and they were friends of his. So we had five very concrete examples in the complaint where Dr. Kadlec ignored the recommendations of scientists and, instead, went with people that were promoting drugs who he knew.
But that is not all. Trump then fired the inspector general who would have received Bright’s whistleblower complaint and replaced her with a loyalist.
ON FRIDAY, WHILE Rick Bright was in the process of filing what promises to be a damning whistleblower complaint to the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, President Donald Trump announced that he was firing the inspector general, Christi Grimm, and nominating a handpicked replacement.
Grimm became inspector general in January and came under attack from Trump after her office published a report pointing out severe shortages of testing supplies and personal protective equipment. In a tweet, Trump called the report, which was based on interviews with hospital administrators from 323 hospitals in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, “another Fake Dossier” because Grimm had worked for the Obama administration. In fact, while she did serve under Barack Obama, Grimm, who been in the IG’s office since 1999, has also worked for the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Trump’s nominee to replace Grimm is attorney Jason Weida.
Congress passed the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) to protect federal employees who lawfully disclose information about government wrongdoing. The inspector general in that area decides if the complaint should be forwarded to congress. This was the procedure that result in the exposure of Trump’s Ukraine extortion call for which he was impeached. He clearly want to have another complaint go to congress. Will Bright’s complaint be made public?
Meanwhile, after abandoning hydroxychloroquine, light, and bleach, and disinfectants as possible treatments for covid-19, Trump is now promoting a new drug remdesivir to treat it. Trump has given emergency authorization to use it. Unsurprisingly, the company that manufactures it has been lobbying the government heavily and its former top lobbyist serves on the coronavirus task force.
While this is not as dangerously hare-brained as his previous suggestions, the scientific verdict on it is mixed.
The decision was made based on a single study, the results of which have yet to be made public in their entirety but are said to show that Covid-19 patients who received the drug tended to recover more quickly. While the study showed a benefit, it was modest and only about the amount of time it took patients to recover; those who took the drug recovered in 11 days as opposed to 15 for those who didn’t take the drug. There was no significant improvement in survival rates, as some virologists have pointed out: Eight percent of patients on the drug died, compared to 11.6 percent of patients who didn’t take it. And while several other trials of the drug have yet to be made public, a recent Chinese study found that there was no benefit either in terms of mortality or the length of time it took for patient to recover. In the Chinese study, 12 percent of patients who were taking remdesivir had to stop because of adverse reactions to the drug, some of which were life-threatening.
The approval comes as Gilead, which paid out $874 million in cash dividends to shareholders and made $1.3 billion in stock buybacks in the first quarter of this year, has sharply increased its lobbying. The company, whose former top lobbyist, Joe Grogan, is a member of the White House coronavirus task force, spent $2.45 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2020, up from $1.86 million in the first quarter of last year.
In March, Gilead sought and was granted orphan drug status for remdesivir, a designation reserved for treatments of rare diseases that would have given several benefits, including the ability to profit exclusively from the product for seven years. The company later reversed course. On Friday, Gilead announced that it would be donating 1.5 million doses of the drug to the government. According to tax law, tax deductions for such charitable donations are generally capped at 10 percent of a corporation’s income. Gilead did not respond to an inquiry about whether it would seek a deduction for its contribution.
Now that remdesivir has emergency approval, questions have turned to its pricing. While the cost of producing a 10-day course of the drug is estimated at $9.32, according to the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, it could be priced at $4,500 or more.
The destruction of the US government is going on at a fast pace. What could possibly go wrong when you replace competent and independent thinkers with partisan loyalists in areas where specialized expertise is called for?