Rick Bright has launched an astonishing attack against “politics and cronyism” days after being kicked out of the agency leading the U.S. government’s push for a COVID-19 vaccine, as he demands a probe into the way the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has been politicized by the Trump administration.
Bright, a vaccine specialist, was deposed as BARDA’s leader and was moved this week to a new role in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at a time when his former employer is scrambling to help biopharma make a COVID-19 prophylactic available.
Stat first reported the news, and while there was no direct word from Bright, there was a lot of speculation. Now, Bright issued a statement via his law firm, seen by FierceBiotech, about his departure, and it is scathing in its assessment of why he was let go.
He said that he was pressured to funnel cash toward the old anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, one of several “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections,” including President Donald Trump, although Brick did not mention the president by name in the piece.
The drug is being trialed to see whether it can help patients but has not yet been approved to treat COVID-19.
The drug can come with serious side effects, but some doctors around the world have anecdotally said it may help some patients. However, much more rigorous testing will be needed to see whether that’s true, and whether, like any drug, it can achieve a balanced risk-benefit profile.
The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has previously said there are currently “insufficient data” to recommend taking it to treat symptoms from the virus. Trump, however, has in the past few weeks continued to push for the drug’s use both on Twitter and in the coronavirus task force news briefings.
Bright said: “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,” he said in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science—not politics or cronyism—has to lead the way.”
He went on: “My professional background has prepared me for a moment like this—to confront and defeat a deadly virus that threatens Americans and people around the globe. To this point, I have led the government’s efforts to invest in the best science available to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, this resulted in clashes with H.H.S. political leadership, including criticism for my proactive efforts to invest early into vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives. I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections,” he said, adding chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were “promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit.
“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.” He also said he was going to ask that the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services “investigate the manner in which this Administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit. Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics.“
Trump typically takes to Twitter or claims not to know someone who has directly or indirectly criticized him. For Bright, he did the latter, telling reporters at a news briefing Wednesday: “I never heard of him. You just mentioned the name, I never heard of him. When did this happen? I never heard of him. The guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t; I’d have to hear the other side. I don’t know who he is.”
In recent weeks, BARDA, the group Bright led, has played a key role in adding financial muscle to COVID-19 vaccine programs, inking a $483 million agreement with Moderna and teaming up with Johnson & Johnson to funnel $1 billion into its candidate.
In the interim, Bright’s former deputy at BARDA Gary Disbrow is stepping up to the director post. The temporary promotion of Disbrow, who has worked at BARDA since early 2007, could reduce the disruption caused by the change of leader during the middle of a pandemic.
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Political and General News Events from June 2 – National Post
June 2 (Reuters) –
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Today in Washington
—————————————————————- This diary is filed daily. ** Indicates new events —————————————————————-
TUESDAY, JUNE 2
** TALLINN – Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz will visit Tallinn and meet with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. ** BUDAPEST- Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok and Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjárto meet in Budapest to discuss easing border restrictions in the region and also in the European Union. ** LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a cabinet meeting of his top ministers, a day after introducing new measures to relax a stringent lockdown. ** BERLIN – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas receives Ukraine counterpart Kuyleba Dmytro in Berlin – 1000 GMT. ** LONDON- British Health Secretary Matt Hancock updates lawmakers on the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – 1130 GMT.
** MADRID – Spain’s economy minister Calvino to participate at session in senate – 1400 GMT.
BERLIN – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba speak to reporters on the sidelines of a joint meeting. GREECE – Greek, Israeli and Cypriot energy ministers speak at a virtual conference on their energy partnership and its role in regional energy security and economic cooperation in the age of COVID-19. BRUSSELS – The European Commission’s top economy official, Valdis Dombrovskis, and France’s EU affairs minister, Amelie de Montchalin, discuss the proposed 750 billion euro economic stimulus plan on a webinar – 1400 GMT. BERLIN – Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and presidential office head Andriy Yermak will pay a visit to Berlin.
– – – – – – – – –
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 3
** ATHENS – Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will meet President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou at the Presidential Mansion – 1500 GMT.
** WASHINGTON DC – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin holds call with G7 finance ministers. ** WASHINGTON DC – International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva takes part in online forum – 1800 GMT. ** MOSCOW – WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge is to brief online Russian language media on COVID-19 – 1000 GMT. ** ROME – Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio meets French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Rome and hold joint news conference – 1600 GMT.
LONDON- UK financial services minister John Glen speaks on government priorities for recovery following COVID-19 at investment webinar – 0830 GMT. PRAGUE – Slovakia’s new Prime Minister Igor Matovic visits Prague to meet his counterpart Andrej Babis and other officials.
BRUSSELS – The European Commission’s climate chief, Frans Timmermans, presents an assessment of the EU member states’ national energy and climate plans.
– – – – – – – – – THURSDAY, JUNE 4
** MADRID – Spain’s economy minister Nadia Calvino to participate in online economy forum – 0700 GMT. ** MADRID – The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, participates in “Nueva Economia Forum” online meeting – 0900 GMT. ** WASHINGTON DC – IMF spokesman Gerry Rice holds regular briefing to discuss global economy and the impact of the COVID-19pandemic on emerging market and developing countries – 1430 GMT. CHILE – 9th anniversary of Chile’s Puyehue volcano eruption, causing air traffic cancellations across South America, New Zealand, Australia.
HONG KONG – Tens of thousands attend a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.
BRUSSELS – Video conference of EU ministers of justice
BRUSSELS – Video conference of EU transport ministers – – – – – – – – – FRIDAY, JUNE 5
GREECE – The Economist holds conference entitled “Euro zone’s quest for a coronavirus vaccine.” Eurogroup’s head Mario Centeno, EU Commission’s Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, Greek Finance Minister Christos Staikouras and Piraeus Bank Chief Executive Officer Christos Megalou will speak – 1430 GMT.
GLOBAL – World Environment Day.
SAINT KITTS and NEVIS – Kittitian and Nevisian National Assembly election. – – – – – – – – –
SATURDAY, JUNE 6
LJUBLJANA – Italian foreign minister Luigi di Maio visits Slovenia.
SEOUL – South Korea marks the 65th anniversary of Memorial Day. – – – – – – – – –
MONDAY, JUNE 8 BRUSSELS – European foreign affairs minister meet in Brussels. – – – – – – – – –
TUESDAY, JUNE 9
VIENNA – 179th Meeting of the OPEC Conference via video conference.
– – – – – – – – –
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10
VIENNA – 11th OPEC and non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting via video conference.
– – – – – – – – – THURSDAY, JUNE 11
DODOMA – Tanzania finance minister presents 2020/21 fiscal budget to parliament
NAIROBI – Kenya’s Finance Minister is scheduled to present the government’s budget for the 2020/21 fiscal year to parliament – 1200 GMT FREDRICK COUNTY, MARYLAND, U.S. – U.S. President Donald Trump hosts G7 leaders at Camp David (to June 12).
LUXEMBOURG – Eurogroup meeting. – – – – – – – – –
FRIDAY, JUNE 12
GLOBAL – World Day against Child Labour. – – – – – – – – –
SUNDAY, JUNE 14
GLOBAL – World Blood Donor Day.
GAZA – 13th anniversary of Hamas takeover of the Gaza strip from Fatah. – – – – – – – – –
MONDAY, JUNE 15 GLOBAL – World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). BRUSSELS – EU-UK officials meet to assess progress in Brexit talks ahead of EU summit
– – – – – – – – –
WENDESDAY, JUNE 17
GLOBAL – United Nation’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. MOSCOW – Russian Energy minister Alexander Valentinovich Novak attends a conference on COVID-19 and the future of energy sector. – – – – – – – – –
THURSDAY, JUNE 18
BRUSSELS – European Council meeting (to June 19).
– – – – – – – – –
SATURDAY, JUNE 20
GLOBAL – World Refugee Day. Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan Parliament election. – – – – – – – – –
TUESDAY, JUNE 23 KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – APEC finance senior officials’ meeting (to June 25). – – – – – – – – –
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24 BERLIN – 72nd anniversary of beginning of The Berlin Blockade. Communist forces cut off all land and water routes between West Germany and West Berlin, prompting the United States to organize a massive airlift.
MOSCOW – Abkhazia’s President Aslan Bzhania will attend Moscow’s Victory Day parade, rescheduled by Russian President Vladimir Putin for June 24
CHISINAU – Moldovan President Igor Dodon will attend a military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in the Great Patriotic War. BRUSSELS – Vice president of the EU Commission, Frans Timmermans, presents the bloc’s smart sector integration.
Mongolia – Mongolian State Great Hural Election. – – – – – – – – –
THURSDAY, JUNE 25
LOS ANGELES – 11th death anniversary of pop star Michael Jackson. – – – – – – – – – FRIDAY, JUNE 26
GLOBAL – International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. – – – – – – – – –
SATURDAY, JUNE 27 Iceland – President election. – – – – – – – – –
MONDAY, JUNE 29 PYEONGTAEK – South Korea observes the 18th anniversary of an inter-Korean sea clash.
BEJING/TAIPEI – 10th Anniversary of signing of a landmark trade deal between China and Taiwan.
LUXEMBOURG – European ministers for agriculture and fisheries meet for talks. (to June 30). – – – – – – – – –
SUNDAY, JULY 5
Dominican Republic – Chamber of Deputies election. Dominican Republic – Senate election. Dominican Republic – President election.
– – – – – – – – –
TUESDAY, JULY 7
Malawi – President’s election. – – – – – – – – –
SATURDAY, JULY 18 RIYADH – Saudi Arabia hosts third meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Riyadh.(to July 19).
– – – – – – – – – TUESDAY, JULY 21
SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia – Russia hosts SCO and BRICS summits (to July 23). – – – – – – – – –
MONDAY, JULY 27 MANILA – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte delivers State of the Nation address.
FRIDAY, July 31
VALPARAISO, Chile – Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera delivers the annual state of the nation address.
HANOI – Vietnam host 53rd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and Related Meetings (to August 5).
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – NOTE: The inclusion of diary items does not necessarily mean that Reuters will file a story based on the event.
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How TikTok got political – The Conversation UK
TikTok, the viral video sharing platform, has been one of the biggest hits of lockdown. Content that originated on the app, like nurses dancing in UK hospitals, has jumped to mainstream TV coverage. TikTok even put its first ad on UK television, made in isolation.
TikTok’s user base has grown rapidly over the lockdown period, with 315 million downloads in the first quarter of 2020. It is not difficult to see why it has found its lockdown niche: the infinite scroll of content there is addictive and less stressful than news-driven platforms.
TikTok videos are usually made at home, and so creators are not at a disadvantage despite their humdrum surroundings. This is in contrast to platforms like Instagram, which has become a showcase for travel, glamour and live events.
The primary uses of TikTok are for viral dances, comedy challenges and demonstrations of visual flair such as makeup and cosplay memes, but recently there has been increased political content. This is something I have been looking into as part of my research examining the intersections between politics, fandom and internet cultures.
Political activists adapt existing TikTok memes and trends. Dances and lipsyncs are set to political speeches, and challenges used to make political points. Producers of political content on TikTok skew younger than those on other social media, which matches the creator base and audience profiles.
Individuals are more popular than party political branded accounts, partly because official accounts feature mostly repurposed video which has been shot horizontally for other platforms. This looks out of place on Tiktok, which presents video vertically.
What works well is organic content made on and for the app. TikTok has its own more intimate feel: videos have a homemade, spontaneous quality. A teenage Boris Johnson fan, posting videos of himself at home, has racked up thousands of views.
One young Labour activist has made TikTok videos with MPs in Parliament. Until recently the daughter of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, had an account, and his supporters and opponents followed her hoping for insight into their family life.
The style of political content on Tiktok owes much to the more open expression of fan culture in politics over the past few years. While fans have existed in politics for as long as politicians have been celebrities, it has become normalised to wear your political heart on your sleeve.
From hashtags and fan videos to homemade placards and t-shirts, fan culture celebrating individual politicians is here to stay. Neighbours of Dominic Cummings, the UK prime minister’s senior strategist, have been sharing the anti-fan activity on their street.
BackBoris and BooForBoris hashtags are popular. Videos declaring support for or against the US president Donald Trump are common both in the US and UK. During my research, I have seen everything from fancams (video compilations of an individual) dedicated to Labour party leader Keir Starmer to a Michael Gove cosplayer.
Activists are able to not just exploit virality but find community by using the same song, audio clip, filter, dance or challenge. Hashtags are less important now on text-dominated platforms and more so on visual ones like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. The app is driven by trends, memes, challenges and recommendations.
The speed of turning a lip sync to a song into a 15-second funny clip while sat on your sofa enables political comedy of a kind we haven’t seen before. Replying to comments or other videos with new videos, or splitting the screen between the previous video and the reply as “duets” allows for disagreements and debates.
Creators who are underrepresented on other platforms due to race, disability and class can speak to their peers directly. The killing of George Floyd by white police officers and the response from the Black Lives Matter movement has seen an explosion of content on the platform. TikTok has been criticised, though, for excluding black and less conventionally attractive creators from the app’s For You landing page, limiting their reach.
In the future, it is likely that more young politicians will produce their own content for or inspired by the platform. Interactions on social networking services have been said to improve young people’s perception of the likeability of political candidates and their trust in government.
The playful, funny interactions on TikTok may have potential for good as well as harm for the public sphere, if politicians and their fans can strike the right tone.
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