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Office of Special Counsel Sides With Vaccine Expert and Whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has issued a preliminary finding in its review of Dr. Rick Bright‘s high-profile firing and demotion and will request the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stay his removal from one of the nation’s key vaccine research agencies.

The OSC determined there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Trump administration engaged in a “prohibited personnel practice” against Bright by removing him from two posts after he cast doubts about the suitability of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to combat the novel Coronavirus or its associated COVID-19 disease.

Support from the OSC on this metric is effectively an admission there is enough evidence to suggest Bright’s demotion was an unlawful act of retaliation. Bright and his attorneys, Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, were apprised of the decision late Thursday.

In light of that finding, OSC said they would request that Bright receive an additional 45 days on the job as Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) which should give them enough time to conclude their investigation.

“The OSC has made a threshold determination that HHS violated the Whistleblower Protection Act by removing Dr. Bright from his position because he made protected disclosures in the best interest of the American public,” Katz and Banks said in a statement. “It has requested that HHS stay Dr. Bright’s removal from BARDA, and we strongly urge the Secretary to agree to this request.“

Bright’s attorneys noted that such a stay was not out of the ordinary–based on the facts of the case established so far.

“It is a common occurrence for agencies to agree to OSC’s request to stay personnel actions when evidence exists, as it does here, that retaliation occurred,” the statement continued. “In the last fiscal year, OSC obtained 31 stays from agencies through negotiation and it in 2018, it obtained 47 stays. It obtained 45 stays in 2017.”

Bright was removed from his position atop the BARDA as well as from a related post as deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response in mid April after he binned the White House’s since-abandoned efforts to push hydroxychloroquine as a pandemic-frustrating wonder drug.

“Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit,” Bright said in a statement released to the media the day after he was fired. “While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public. I insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed COVID-19 while under the supervision of a physician. These drugs have potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients with COVID-19.”

Katz and Banks followed up with a statement previewing Bright’s retaliation claim.

“The Administration’s removal of Dr. Bright from his position as director of BARDA is retaliation plain and simple,” they said. “The results from the Administration’s refusal to listen to the experts and to sideline those like Dr. Bright who point out any errors in the government’s response will continue to be a catastrophe for the American people. We will request that the Office of Special Counsel seek a stay of Dr. Bright’s termination and that Dr. Bright be permitted to remain in his position pending the OSC and IG’s investigation of this unlawful forced transfer.”

The full whistleblower complaint was made public earlier this week.

“Dr. Bright should not be denied the right to have his complaint investigated fully and fairly before he is formally transferred to [the National Institutes of Health] – a move that will harm not only him, but the country as well,” Katz and Banks continued in their Friday statement announcing the OSC’s preliminary finding.

“This country is in an unprecedented health crisis and needs the expertise of Dr. Bright to lead the nation’s efforts to combat COVID-19. We hope the Secretary will grant the Special Counsel’s request and allow Dr. Bright, one of nation’s leading vaccine scientists, to return to his position leading BARDA and serving his country.”

[image via screengrab/MSNBC]

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