Francis Collins, the director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), says former President Donald Trump and Republicans pressured him to back unproven COVID-19 remedies.
“I have done everything I can to stay out of any kind of political, partisan debates, because it really is not a place where medical research belongs,” he said, adding that despite this, he often found himself in conflict with Trump.
“And I got into a difficult place, and got a bit of a talking-to by the President of the United States about this,” he said.
Despite this, Collins said he stood firm.
“Yeah, I was not going to compromise scientific principles to just hold onto the job,” said Collins. “Can you imagine a circumstance where the director of the NIH, somebody who believes in science, would submit to political pressures and fire the greatest expert in infectious disease that the world has known, just to satisfy political concerns?”
Trump infamously claimed that the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine can be used as an effective treatment against COVID-19, even claiming that he was taking the drug himself.
The controversy surrounding Trump’s claim prompted the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to warn doctors not to prescribe hydroxychloroquine or the related drug chloroquine. The drugs are restricted for hospital and research uses only.
Regulators “flagged reports of sometimes fatal heart side effects among coronavirus patients” taking the drugs, according to the Associated Press. Other side-effects include heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure, and muscle or nerve damage.
“It is important that health care providers are aware of the risks of serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems that can occur with these drugs,” the FDA said in a statement after several early studies have suggested the drugs cause problems or yield no benefits.
Yesterday, the president denied the FDA had ever issued a warning.
Alan is a writer, editor, and news junkie based in New York.