What was going through the minds of the FDA officials during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic? Thanks to hundreds of emails released by the FDA on Thursday—forced through the Freedom of Information Act—enquiring minds can find out.
It’s still just a glimpse, however, as quite a bit of the text copy, subject lines and emails are blacked out for confidentially reasons.
Still, the familiar cast of task force and government agency officials from that time—Deborah Birx, Stephen Hahn, Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield, Brett Giroir and many White House handlers from the president’s and vice president’s office—appear often in the pages and pages of emails.
Guess who else is there? Pharma executives, who make occasional appearances on issues such as press release sign-offs and offers for experimental drugs.
For instance, on March 31, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day wrote to then-FDA Commissioner Hahn with a draft of the pharma company’s press release about donations of remdisivir. He noted the release was also shared with the review team at the FDA as well as the White House—and gave his personal cell phone number (blacked out now) in case they had wanted to discuss further.
The draft press release is attached, but blacked out. While the press release doesn’t seem to have made it out of draft, on April 4, O’Day published an open letter on the Gilead website announcing it was expanding access to remedisivir allowing physicians and hospitals to apply for emergency use.
As also might be expected, there were many queries and suggestions and ideas around testing unproven treatments during those early days of the pandemic.
The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine dominate headlines early in the pandemic, and in one of the emails, Mylan’s Anil Soni, head of global infectious diseases, offered quick supplies of the medicine by leveraging ”existing contractual relationships” to move as quickly as possible.