Hydroxychloroquine and This Guy Bright
Scott McKay
by
Dr. Rick Bright testifying last Thursday (YouTube screenshot)

Last week a big deal was made, in some of the Usual Suspect media outlets, of congressional testimony by a Dr. Rick Bright, who until not too long ago headed something called the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Bright, who has been recently reassigned to another position within the National Institutes of Health, thundered away Thursday at the Trump administration in a fashion that has already landed him a 60 Minutes segment and will almost assuredly result in a book deal and later a movie, perhaps starring someone like Mark Ruffalo as Bright, with the usual tired plot.

You’ve seen the movie before, and Bright’s story is nothing new. There is some external threat, and there is a lone good guy amid an entire government full of crooks, buffoons, and sycophants who raises the alarm about the external threat, but the lone good guy is punished and excluded for telling the truth because some evil, usually conservative, power — in this case President Trump — has his thumb on the scale.

Bright was demoted but didn’t lose his job, and it seems a bit more likely that his demise as the head of BARDA, which is an office in charge of the country’s medical stockpile and vaccine supply, had more to do with personality conflicts and office politics than any of the black-helicopter stuff that played out on C-SPAN last week. That doesn’t make him entirely a nut case. There’s always some middle ground where reality lies.

Apply today’s journalistic and editorial standards to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prosecution of World War II and we might well have sued for peace by the end of May 1942.

What’s the truth about Bright’s accusations? Essentially, he says that the federal government had opportunities to contain the spread of the Wuhan ChiCom virus but dithered, played politics, and made mistakes. Those statements are at least partially true. The federal government is too big, too politicized, and too incompetent to effectively handle much of anything that doesn’t involve killing people and breaking things, and even in those respects it spends more money than it needs to. To ask it to move quickly enough to effectively protect the American people from something like the Wuhan virus is to assume that all possible conditions are favorable.

And in the case of the Wuhan virus, all possible conditions were not favorable, starting with the fact that the Chinese government repeatedly and maliciously lied to the world about the virus’s spread from that lab in Hubei province, putting not just the United States but everybody else in a position of scrambling after the fact. We can point all the fingers we want at each other, but at the end of the day this virus and how it was spread functioned very much like one would expect of a bioweapon.

In other words, this is a war. And in a war lots of mistakes get made. Apply today’s journalistic and editorial standards to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prosecution of World War II and we might well have sued for peace by the end of May 1942, with Roosevelt resigning in disgrace well before then.

Not much of that made it into Bright’s presentation. A lot more “Orange Man Bad” did. Including the one thing this column actually did find somewhat interesting — namely, Bright’s involvement in the question of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a treatment for COVID-19 sufferers.

Our readers know that issue came to a head Monday when President Trump, who has been an advocate of HCQ, revealed he’s taking the drug, together with zinc as is its common protocol courtesy of doctors who treat actual patients, as a prophylactic against contracting the Wuhan virus. That sent the Left into paroxysms of irritation, though one wonders, if they’re so unconvinced that HCQ has positive properties as a defense against the virus, why they wouldn’t welcome Trump putting his money where his mouth is.

From an interminably long Politico piece on Bright’s whistleblowing after he was demoted, the vaccine boss was for HCQ before he was against it — and you’ll notice something else in this excerpt:

By mid-March, Trump was promoting the use of malaria drugs as a possible “game changer” in the coronavirus fight, despite scant evidence that the drugs could rein in Covid-19 and over the increasingly deep concerns of career health officials who wanted the administration to pursue the standard process of clinical trials. The drugs had been promoted on Fox News and by some of Trump’s political allies.

“At my direction, the federal government is working to help obtain large quantities of chloroquine,” Trump said at a March 23 press briefing, which HHS officials say understated the frantic efforts to meet the president’s demands.

Bright alleges that the department’s top lawyer, Charrow, applied pressure to rush the malaria drugs and was personally involved in writing aspects of the plan — a point backed up by several emails included in his complaint — even as career health officials worried about the lack of evidence that the drugs could help treat Covid-19 and the potential risk to patients. According to Bright’s lawyers, it was the first time that he recalls the department’s top lawyer calling him directly to discuss a drug donation.

Two current officials confirmed Bright’s claims that Charrow directly drove the project after Trump spent days in March publicly stumping for his health officials to expand access to the drug. The move radically subverted how FDA was supposed to operate, independent of political influence. Studies have increasingly found that the malaria drugs have no positive effect for Covid-19 and may in fact have negative consequences.

As a result, Bright acknowledged in his whistleblower complaint that he was a source behind a Reuters story about Trump administration officials’ pursuit of the drug. But the email chain that Bright leaked to Reuters was just a partial snapshot of the discussions, and Bright himself entertained the idea of using hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients in other emails, according to three people who have seen those messages and described them to POLITICO.

Bright’s defenders have acknowledged that he tried to compromise with his bosses over hydroxychloroquine. Katz, his lawyer, emphasized that the scientist only supported the use of the drugs in a controlled, rigorous environment — not the broad plan pursued by the Trump administration.

“He did not support the distribution of these drugs without appropriate controls in place,” said Katz. “And given the latest studies on these drugs, he has been proven right,” she added, an allusion to recent findings that hydroxychloroquine shows no benefit against Covid-19.

Some officials in the division and elsewhere in HHS said that Bright was trying to raise appropriate concerns about the rush to allow an unproven drug — although he wasn’t yet ready to make a public stand and put his future employment at risk.

“He was definitely tapping on the brakes, if you read the emails,” said a senior administration official. “He may not have slammed them.”

A bit of editorializing in there about hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness, wouldn’t you say? Somewhat conspicuous given that HCQ, together with azithromycin and/or zinc, remains the single most prescribed remedy by doctors for the treatment of COVID-19 patients and is widely recognized by doctors in the field as effective.

Bright is now being given the pre-Ruffalo treatment, and one reasonable interpretation for why — beyond the obvious reason that trotting him out onto the public stage is an opportunity to trash the president or because he hired the same lawyer who represented Christine Blasey Ford  — is the hydroxychloroquine controversy.

You’ve surely noticed by now that the mainstream media in this country is engaged in an all-out propaganda campaign to trash HCQ as a treatment for COVID-19. It is literally ceaseless at this point, and it has been more or less since a deranged leftist woman in Arizona poisoned her husband to death with fish-tank cleaner and attempted to cover the crime by suggesting it was an error brought on by Trump’s advocacy of the drug as a virus cure. There has been nonstop reporting that HCQ is ineffective against COVID-19 and in fact highly dangerous, which hardly rings true given that the drug is commonly prescribed to people not just with malaria but also with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and has been for decades.

The studies that claim HCQ has no positive effect on COVID-19 recovery were preceded by one taking place within the Veterans Affairs hospital system, and the media narrative built on that. But the VA study was not peer-reviewed, and flaws in it have been uncovered — namely, that it focused on end-stage patients with severe comorbidities that placed many of them in the category of hopeless, or near-hopeless, causes. What was worse, one of the authors of the study, Scott Sutton, has received three research grants in recent years from Gilead Sciences, Inc., including a $247,000 grant in 2018.

Why is that last item important? Gilead is the maker of Remdesivir, the brand-new, not-yet-FDA-approved wonder drug that is being touted as a COVID-19 cure. Remdesivir is said to cost as much as $1,000 per dose when it hits the market, which means it will make Gilead, and those companies purchasing a license for co-marketing and co-manufacturing Remdesivir, untold amounts of money.

We already know there are enough connections between pharmaceutical companies and public health bureaucrats to warrant reasonable suspicion of many of these studies, and we also already know that nobody will make much of a profit on hydroxychloroquine. An awful lot of the use of the drug to date has come due to donations from drug companies to hospitals and public health systems; they’re giving it away because it’s so cheap to manufacture.

Add to that Trump’s prospective optimism about HCQ as a “potential game-changer,” and you can see plenty enough reason for all of these not-so-scientific studies and even more breathless media reports denouncing a treatment that, in its best protocol, has shown itself to be better than 90 percent effective in beating the virus. So much so that last month, more than 700 doctors joined Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in writing a letter to Trump asking him to broaden the availability of the drug beyond late-stage hospital patients.

By most accounts, HCQ’s best use, and one which doctors are commonly prescribing in an off-label fashion, is as soon after symptoms manifest as possible or even as a prophylactic for people at a high risk of exposure to or rapid decline from COVID-19. Yet there is so much resistance and what look like planted media accounts of its ineffectiveness to warrant a healthy suspicion of what’s going on here.

Somehow Rick Bright’s whistleblowing plays into all of this. It’s a thread that deserves pulling. It’s likely you’ll see more on the subject. Sharyl Attkisson has already begun, with a story everyone should see.

Scott McKay
Scott McKay
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Scott McKay is publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics. He’s also a novelist — check out his first book “Animus: A Tale of Ardenia,” available in Kindle and paperback.
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