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FDA ousts chief spokesperson after agency inflated COVID-19 therapy gain

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / OCT. 2015
                                The Food and Drug Administration campus in Silver Spring, Md. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has parted ways with its chief spokeswoman.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / OCT. 2015

    The Food and Drug Administration campus in Silver Spring, Md. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has parted ways with its chief spokeswoman.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has parted ways with its chief spokeswoman, according to a person with knowledge of the move, after the head of the agency exaggerated the benefits of an experimental therapy, and others in the Trump administration promoted the erroneous statements.

The spokeswoman, Emily Miller, joined the agency earlier this month. She came to the job with communications experience in past government positions, a stint at conservative media outlets, and work advocating for gun rights. But she had little to no health-care experience. The news was first reported by the New York Times.

“Emily Miller is no longer the head of OMA,” according to an email that was circulated to members of the FDA’s office of media affairs, and has been obtained by Bloomberg. “We are working through next steps in terms of what our team structure looks like. We appreciate your hard work and will continue to keep you informed as we learn more.”

Miller didn’t immediately respond to attempts to reach her today.

Miller’s ousting comes after a press conference Sunday at which FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said that convalescent blood plasma — an experimental treatment that uses plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients to treat those currently infected — could save 35 out of 100 people who would otherwise have died.

That was incorrect. The FDA only had data showing that a higher concentration of the treatment was better than a lower one. While the therapy is considered promising, there is no hard evidence yet that it actually saves lives.

Hahn’s misstatement about the proven effectiveness of blood plasma was repeated by others in the Trump administration, including Miller, on social media. On Thursday night, she posted a Tweet from her personal account quoting President Donald Trump making a similar claim, that blood plasma would save “thousands and thousands of lives.”

Reliable and accurate information about drugs and science is widely considered a crucial part of the FDA’s role. The agency is relied upon to regulate drugs, including the provision of information to doctors and patients about how well they work. It also polices exaggerated claims about products.

The exaggeration of the known benefits of blood plasma haven’t been limited to Miller. As of this morning, the FDA’s official Twitter account also hadn’t deleted a video of Hahn’s erroneous statement from the press conference with Trump.

Michael Caputo, a Trump appointee who leads communications at the Department of Health and Human Services, also posted a similar claim about the therapy and has not removed his post.

A call and email to Caputo weren’t immediately returned on this. A spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Department declined to comment.

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