(Bloomberg) — Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease specialist, slammed the U.K.’s drug regulator, saying that it rushed to clear the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.
The U.K. watchdog, called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said Wednesday that it had approved the Pfizer vaccine. That means the shot will likely be used in Britain before the U.S. and the European Union.
“They’re great, they’re good scientists,” Fauci said in an interview with CBS News, according to a transcript. “But they just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully they said, ‘OK, let’s approve it. That’s it.’”
The comments, which he later toned down in a separate appearance, come amid international and domestic debate over the speedy approval, with some members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s governing Conservative Party crediting Brexit while other officials said the departure from the European Union played no role. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Thursday that the expedited process didn’t surprise him because the U.K. is a “much better country.”
“We’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have,” he said in a radio interview.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been under fire from President Donald Trump because no Covid vaccines were approved before the election in which he was defeated by President-elect Joe Biden. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and other health officials have said that a careful, transparent approval process is key to ensuring public trust in the vaccine that will be required for a successful immunization campaign.
The U.K. “kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile,” Fauci told CBS. “They really rushed through that approval.”
Fauci later eased off his criticism.
“Our process is one that takes more time than it takes in the U.K.,” Fauci told the BBC, according to a report in the Washington Post. “That’s just the reality. I did not mean to imply any sloppiness even though it came out that way.”
The U.K. Department for Health and Social Care tweeted a clip late on Thursday of MHRA Chief Executive Officer June Raine defending the regulator’s methods by saying a “rolling review” process had enabled it to act quickly to approve the vaccine.
“A rolling review can be used to complete the assessment of a promising medicine or a vaccine in a situation where time is of the essence, in the shortest time possible,” she said. “But, and this is a very important point indeed, that doesn’t mean that any corners have been cut. None, at all.”
(Updates with Williamson’s comment in fourth paragraph)
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