Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn looks on as President Donald Trump announces that the Food and Drug Administration is issuing an emergency authorization for blood plasma as a coronavirus treatment during a press conference in James S. Brady Briefing Room at the White House on on August 23, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

In Latest Sign of Covid-19 Politicization, FDA Officials Fired After Director Apologizes for Overstating Plasma Benefits

"The takeover of the FDA by politics and Trump political hacks is something that threatens your life and the lives of everyone you care about."

Julia Conley, staff writer

Two public relations officials were dismissed from their positions at the Food and Drug Administration Friday following Commissioner Stephen Hahn's decision to walk back his recent claims about convalescent plasma as a treatment for Covid-19.

The agency's chief spokesperson, Emily Miller, only served in her position for 11 days before being ousted. Miller, who previously worked on Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) reelection campaign and for the right-wing news outlet One America News, was "involved in prepping the commissioner and the press materials for the announcement on the emergency use authorization on convalescent plasma," according to CNN.

"I did recommend that he correct the record. If a federal official doesn't say something right, and chooses to clarify and say that the criticism is justified, that's refreshing."
—Wayne Pines, fired FDA PR consultant

Earlier this week, Hahn joined President Donald Trump in a press conference in which the president announced that the FDA had given emergency authorization for the use of plasma from patients who have recovered from Covid-19 to treat people who have the illness. 

Hahn was rebuked by public health experts for giving approval to the treatment, which has not yet been subjected to randomized, controlled trials—the standard process for testing the efficacy of a drug, treatment, or vaccine. 

The commissioner took part in the press conference and gave the authorization after Trump, in numerous statements, accused "the deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA" of standing in the way of approving the treatment in order to hurt the president's reelection chances. Both Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health had cautioned against approving the use of plasma.

At the press conference, Trump claimed convalescent plasma has been "proven to reduce mortality by 35%." According to British palliative care physician Dr. Rachel Clarke, the limited research of the treatment actually shows a reduction of "at most, 3.5%—in a poorly designed study with no control arm."

A day after the press conference, Hahn tweeted that the criticism he received was "absolutely justified" and that "the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction."

Along with Miller, PR consultant Wayne Pines, who had advised Hahn to walk back his claims, was fired from his position at the FDA Friday, the New York Times reported.

"I did recommend that he correct the record," Pines told the Times. "If a federal official doesn't say something right, and chooses to clarify and say that the criticism is justified, that's refreshing."

The FDA denied that Pines was dismissed because of the public statements Hahn made about convalescent plasma, but critics said both firings were evidence that PR officials have been scapegoated to cover up the agency's failings.

"The most [telling] part of this is not about Emily Miller, but firing the consultant who advised Stephen Hahn to tell the truth," tweeted Eric Topol, a scientist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who denounced Hahn earlier this week for overstating the effects of plasma. 

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) tweeted that the dismissal of the PR officials offers more evidence of the politicization of the FDA during a public health crisis. 

"The takeover of the FDA by politics and Trump political hacks is something that threatens your life and the lives of everyone you care about," the congressman wrote.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

Ocasio-Cortez Says 'Elephant in the Room' Is Senate Democrats Blocking Their Own Party's Agenda

"The argument that we need to make here," the New York Democrat said of bipartisanship's dead end, "is that it's worth going it alone if we can do more for working people in this country."

Jon Queally, staff writer ·

On Climate and Covid-19 Emergencies, G7 Judged a 'Colossal Failure' for All the World to See

"Never in the history of the G7 has there been a bigger gap between their actions and the needs of the world. In the face of these challenges the G7 have chosen to cook the books on vaccines and continue to cook the planet."

Jon Queally, staff writer ·

NYC Mayoral Candidate Eric Adams Rebuked for 'Dangerous' 400-Students-to-1-Teacher Theory

"Defunding schools to the point that we have a 400:1 student-to-teacher ratio so we can bankroll another huge expansion in an already-multibillion dollar police budget," said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, "is how you build a school-to-prison pipeline."

Jon Queally, staff writer ·

Lack of Patent Waiver Would Add Over $70 Billion to Cost of Vaccinating World: Oxfam

Most of that money, said a spokesperson for the group, "will go directly into the pockets" of Big Pharma shareholders.

Jon Queally, staff writer ·

Darnella Frazier Receives Pulitzer Special Citation 'for Courageously Recording the Murder of George Floyd'

"Without Darnella, Derek Chauvin never would have been tried and George Floyd would have been blamed by the state for his own death."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·