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Government scientist says he was fired after concerns over malaria drug

This Tuesday, April 7, 2020 photo shows a bottle of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Texas City, Texas. On Friday, April 24, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors against prescribing the malaria drug to treat COVID-19 outside of hospitals or research settings. (David J. Phillip / AP)
This Tuesday, April 7, 2020 photo shows a bottle of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Texas City, Texas. On Friday, April 24, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned doctors against prescribing the malaria drug to treat COVID-19 outside of hospitals or research settings. (David J. Phillip / AP)
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A government scientist says he was ousted from his position after raising concerns that the Trump administration wanted to “flood” coronavirus hot spots like New York and New Jersey with a malaria drug that President Donald Trump was pushing despite scant scientific evidence it helped.

Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed the complaint Tuesday with the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency responsible for whistleblower complaints. He alleges he was reassigned to a lesser role because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug favored by Trump.

Bright alleges in the complaint that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services had tried to promote hydroxychloroquine “as a panacea.” The officials also “demanded that New York and New Jersey be `flooded’ with these drugs, which were imported from factories in Pakistan and India that had not been inspected by the FDA,” the complaint says.

But Bright opposed broad use of the drug, arguing the scientific evidence wasn’t there to back up its use in coronavirus patients. He felt an urgent need to tell the public that there wasn’t enough scientific evidence to support using the drugs for COVID-19 patients, the complaint states.

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 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 drugs, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a number of side effects, including heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

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