U.K. Defends Covid Vaccine Regulator After Fauci Criticism

The U.K. defended its health regulator after Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease specialist, suggested it rushed to clear the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, is seen as “the gold standard of regulation by international scientists, people around the world,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma told Sky News on Friday. “People should be really confident that this vaccine is safe. If it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be deployed,” he said.

The MHRA became the first regulator in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, stealing a march even on the the U.S. and Germany, where the two companies are based.

But the approval prompted international sniping at the speed of action, with Peter Liese, a member of the European Parliament’s public health committee, calling it “hasty,” and Fauci on Thursday suggesting it lacked due rigor.

The U.K. “kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile,” Fauci said in an interview with CBS News, according to a transcript. “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.’”

He later toned down the comments, saying he hadn’t meant to imply “sloppiness.”

MHRA Chief Executive Officer June Raine defended the regulator’s methods, 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,” Raine said in a clip tweeted late on Thursday by the Department for Health and Social Care. “That doesn’t mean that any corners have been cut. None at all.”

The latest flap comes amid international and domestic debate over the speedy approval. Some members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s governing Conservative Party credited Brexit, while Raine and other officials said the departure from the European Union played no role. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said 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 an LBC radio interview on Thursday.

Sharma defended Williamson on Friday and suggested he had been joking. “There was an element of tongue in cheek about it,” he told Sky.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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