Kevin Seraaj, journalist, Orlando Advocate
Kevin Seraaj
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“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Rick Bright told The New York Times, in discussing why he was removed from his position as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

You may have never heard of BARDA.  It’s a small and relatively obscure agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created in 2006 “to help invest in drug and vaccine development projects for pandemic diseases such as Ebola and Zika”).

Since 2016, Bright has been at the helm of BARDA carrying out the organizational mission.  He is an international expert on vaccines with a lengthy work history in the field.  BARDA is expected to play a major role in forging the public-private partnerships needed to develop a treatment for COVID-19.  The agency just got an additional $1 billion to focus on coming ups with a fix for the CoronaVirus pandemic.

But Bright was abruptly dismissed after refusing to go along with the President in his pushing of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as potential cures for COVID-19.  Instead, Bright issued a directive limiting their broad use, saying there is no evidence that either drug presents as a potential cure.  

He was removed from BARDA and transferred to a “narrower” job at the National Institute of Health.  

“I believe this transfer was in response to my 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 in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” Bright said in a written statement to the Times.  

Bright’s statements about the President’s efforts to derail him in pursuit of “technologies that lack scientific merit” are especially damning to the administration’s insistence that it considers all Americans a priority in this crisis.

What is urgently needed now is an aggressive focus on  scientifically vetted solutions instead of attention-grabbing flights of fancy that will not– and cannot– help keep people from dying of this disease.

As the Los Angeles Editorial Board noted in its op-ed dated April 8, 2020, Blacks and Hispanics are dying disproportionately to their numbers in the general population.  

“In Michigan, for example, African Americans accounted for 33% of COVID-19 cases and 41% of deaths as of Monday, though they represent only 14% of the overall population. In Chicago, 72% of the deaths have been among the city’s black residents, though they make up 29% of the population. The numbers are almost identical in Louisiana.” 

The gravity of this under-focus on blacks in particular led the Congressional Black Caucus to publicly criticize the new Emergency Interim Aid Bill for also overlooking the disproportionate effect the coronavirus is having on Black health.

“Much more needs to be done,” the CBC said in a prepared statement. “Although the inclusion of $25 billion for testing is a positive step forward, the CBC believes the bill should have required the Department of Health and Human Services develop a national strategy for testing Americans with a particular focus on concentrated efforts in communities where the death rate is out of proportion to the population. For example, African Americans are 30% and 61% of the population of Chicago and New Orleans, respectively, but 70% of those who died from COVID-19.”

In a word, the nation must get serious about combatting this disease in the places and among the populations where it is raging.

More data is presently unavailable as only a few states actually detail COVID-19 deaths by race.  Still, the numbers are telling– and chilling.

Minorities are more likely to work in lower-paying jobs where they are required to report to work despite the health risks, and least likely to be able to afford to stay home, foregoing pay.  That makes them more likely to end up among the infected, and infected people infect non-infected people– usually those they are most engaged with day-to-day.

Pandemic politics is dangerous.  Trump’s insistence on advancing the use of medicines that have not been properly vetted is irresponsible, and harkens back to the time of the Black Plague, circa 1350 CE, when people were quick to point to cures based on “religious belief, folklore and superstition,” instead of current medical knowledge.  Too many people have already died because of this president’s ineptness in the face of this crisis.

A swift end to the deadly CoronaVirus health threat is where our priorities must lie, but that result will obtain only if there is an honest appraisal of the current situation and the real potentials for existing and experimental medical methodologies.  Just saying it’s so doesn’t make it so, and the President must move away from unfounded talking points to providing the American public with reliable, competent information.  There are people around who can give him that.

Getting rid of people who believe in straight-shooting and tried-and-true process of scientific analysis is not the way to get us out of this mess.