America’s leading infectious disease scientist Anthony Fauci has apologized for suggesting he thought the UK’s drug regulator had passed approval of the coronavirus vaccine.
His comments came a day after Britain became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for general use, sparking skepticism among European neighbors and suggestions for politicization.
Fauci, who leads the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the BBC: “I have a lot of faith in what the UK is doing, both scientifically and from a regulator’s point of view.
“Our process takes more time than in the UK. And that’s just the reality, ”he said, adding,“ I didn’t mean to suggest sloppiness, even if it came out that way. “
Fauci had previously described the British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) “running around the corner of the marathon and competing in the final mile” and “passed that approval.”
He contrasted that with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which he said had been careful not to avoid “cutbacks” because it did not want to stir vaccine skepticism.
“In fact, they were actually quite heavily criticized by their counterparts in the European Union who said, ‘That was some kind of hot dog game,'” Fauci had said.
Fauci made his original remarks ahead of his first meeting with Joe Biden, after which the president-elect confirmed that the doctor – who had a troubled relationship with Donald Trump – would remain on as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and appointed him as a lead medical advisor.
June Raine, the head of the MHRA, had previously insisted that the vaccine had “no corners cut”.
The deputy chief medical officer for England, Jonathan Van-Tam, also hit back at critics, telling the BBC, “If you are a slightly more lagging regulator, what do you say to justify your position of being further behind? Words like the ones we’ve heard, maybe. “
The UK’s MHRA was also praised on Wednesday by Moncef Slaoui, a former pharmaceutical director who became chief advisor to the US government’s Operation Warp Speed program to develop Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
He told reporters during a phone call that the UK agency was on a par with the FDA as the world’s best regulator, describing it as the European Medicines Agency’s “scientific engine” before Britain left that organization after Brexit.
An FDA advisory panel will hold a public meeting on Dec. 11 to evaluate the same vaccine, and approval could follow shortly thereafter.
The EU, for its part, has insisted that the bloc has not fallen behind.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Wednesday during a video conference of his EU colleagues: “The idea is not to be the first, but to have a safe and efficient vaccine.
‘It is of course a matter of expertise, authorization. But as we have seen in comments from the UK, it is also a political issue for the European Union. “