America’s top coronavirus expert has suggested the UK approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine too quickly and that it could harm people’s trust in the jab.
Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the UK “did not do it as carefully” as the US will.
Britain was the first country in the world to give the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine the go-ahead after approval from its Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The US is yet to approve the jab.
The MHRA has said the vaccine meets “rigorous high standards”.
In an interview with Fox News, however, Dr Fauci raised doubts about the speed of the decision.
“The way our FDA [Food and Drug Administration] is doing it is the correct way,” he told the channel.
“We really scrutinise the data very carefully to guarantee to the American public that this is a safe and efficacious vaccine.
“I think if we did anything less, it would add to the already existing hesitancy on the part of many people to take the vaccine because they are concerned about safety or that we went too quickly.”
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A YouGov survey released on Wednesday found 20% of Britons aren’t confident in the safety of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Dr Fauci went on: “If you go quickly and do it superficially, people are not going to want to get vaccinated.
“We have the gold standard of a regulatory approach with the FDA. The UK did not do it as carefully. They got a couple of days ahead – I don’t think that makes much difference.”
However, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said “it is possible that he has over-stated concerns about the UK assessment process”.
Prof Evans said the processes of the US FDA and Britain’s MHRA “are basically very similar”.
He added: “It is very clear that the UK assessment of this has followed all the usual processes.
“There is a spotlight on this whole process, and if it were to be the case that a problem appears with the vaccine that had been missed by the MHRA and its advisors, then their reputation would be damaged very severely.
“So the incentive to get it right now is very high. It is easy to say the speed means ‘not careful’, but it is also possible to understand other reasons for the speed than lack of care.”
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, stressed on Wednesday that the vaccine met “rigorous high standards”, with “many thousands of people” having taken part in its trials.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, also told the BBC on Thursday: “I’m very confident in the assessments the MHRA makes.”
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