America’s top infectious disease expert has apologised for suggesting UK authorities rushed their authorisation of a vaccine against the CCP virus saying he has “great faith” in the country’s regulators.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had sparked controversy with an earlier interview in which he said UK regulators hadn’t acted “as carefully” as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Fauci said late on Thursday that he had meant to say U.S. authorities do things differently than their British counterparts, not better, but his comments weren’t phrased properly.
“I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the regulatory community at the UK, and anyone who knows me and my relationship with that over literally decades, you know that’s the case,” Fauci told the BBC.
Controversy, this time with the EU, was also sparked when Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday that if the UK were still a member of the European Union British authorities couldn’t have moved so quickly on gaining the first approval in the world to use the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
His remarks then drew a rebuke from the EU, which pointed out that Britain is still governed by the bloc’s rules.
Britain exited the EU at the end of January and entered the current Brexit transition period that will end on Dec. 31.
One of Britain’s goals has always been to wrest control of its rules and regulations from EU bureaucrats.
Though EU rules do permit individual member countries to give temporary authorization for national use of medicines during a public health emergency it has been suggested that the process of approval could nevertheless have been sped up by Britain not being a member.
According to Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine UK regulators may have been able to move faster because they are no longer assessing products intended for the entire bloc.
“Consequently, the UK has almost undoubtedly had greater capacity to respond to a new application for authorization of a vaccine than any other country,” Evans said.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added further fuel to the controversy when he spoke to LBC radio on Thursday.
When asked what had allowed the speedy vaccine approval for the UK, and if Brexit had helped, he heaped praise on the comparative alacrity of the UK regulator and said it was because Britain was a “much better country.”
“I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the American’s have,” he said.
He added that being first didn’t surprise him because “We are a much better country than every single one of them.”
Williamson also said that the country being the first in the world to get the Pfizer vaccine gave the UK “a real competitive advantage.”
Responding to this on Twitter Conservative peer Lord Michael Forsyth wrote that it was, “disappointing to see some folk trying to make political capital out of the brilliant vaccine news.
“Frankly it’s just unseemly and we should just be united in our thanks to those responsible for this breakthrough and the hope it brings to every person on the planet.”
Disappointing to see some folk trying to make political capital out of the brilliant vaccine news. Frankly it’s just unseemly and we should just be united in our thanks to those responsible for this breakthrough and the hope it brings to every person on the planet.
— Michael Forsyth (@lord_forsyth) December 3, 2020
The European Medicines Agency meanwhile has said it expects to decide on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by Dec. 29 for use in not just a single country but in all 27 EU member nations.
The agency said its procedure is “the most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency.”
Though critics have suggested UK regulators emphasised speed over thoroughness Fauci rejected the idea.
‘End up in the Same Place’
It will take the FDA at least another week to complete its review, Fauci said, but the United States and Britain will ultimately end up in the same place.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be safe, it’s going to be effective,” he said. “The people in the UK are going to receive it, and they’re going to do really well, and the people in the United States are going to receive it, and we’re going to do pretty well.”
When announcing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine approval on Wednesday the UK government said it followed “months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality, and effectiveness.”
At the same time Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive officer applauded the MHRA for their “ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK.”
Unlike some other vaccine candidates, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires storage at very low temperatures which has raised concerns around the practicalities of its deployment.
Dr. Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, whilst welcoming the landmark vaccine approval, said that “the Pfizer vaccine does require storage at around -70C, which will pose significant logistical challenges for all countries that choose to use it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.