Dr Fauci had said UK health authorities did not scrutinise vaccine trial data as “carefully” as US officials have been doing, after the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) approved Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine on Tuesday, making Britain the first western country to green light the injection.
Dr Anthony Fauci has apologised for a “misunderstanding” over comments which seemed to suggest the UK had rushed through its approval of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
America’s top infectious diseases expert said on Wednesday evening he did “not mean to imply any sloppiness, even though it came out that way”, and said he wanted to “set the record straight”.
When asked “how qualified” he was to judge the work of the MHRA, Dr Fauci told the BBC: “There really has been a misunderstanding and for that I am sorry and I apologise for that.”
“I do have great faith in both the scientific community and regulatory community in the UK.”
The director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had suggested that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is conducting a more rigorous review of the jab.
“The way the FDA is… doing it, is the correct way,” Dr Fauci told Fox News in an interview on Wednesday night.
“We really scrutinise the data very carefully to guarantee to the American public that this is a safe and efficacious vaccine,” he said.
He added: “We have the gold standard of a regulatory approach with the FDA. The UK did not do it as carefully and they got a couple of days ahead.”
Dr Fauci had also told CBS News the UK “kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile”, adding: “They really rushed through that approval.”
Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday evening, he said: “I have a great deal of confidence in what the UK does, both scientifically and from a regulatory standpoint.”
Explaining previous comments, he said: “In the United States, there is such a considerable amount of tension of pushing back on the credibility, of the safety and the efficacy. If the US had approved the vaccine was quickly as the UK did, there would likely have been “push back on an already scrutinising society”, he said.
Dr Fauci said: “Our process is one that takes more time than was taken with the UK. That is just the reality.”
A UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson told The Independent: “The MHRA is a world leader in its field and followed rigorous international standards in its assessment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to make sure it meets strict standards of safety, effectiveness and quality.
“This has been a rigorous assessment with the rolling review starting in October as soon as data from the clinical trials became available. The MHRA also sought advice from independent experts from the Commission on Human Medicines before authorising the vaccine.”
MHRA chief executive, June Raine, said: “The public can be absolutely confident that the standards we have worked to are equivalent to those around the world.”
Last month some 42 per cent of Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine when one is ready. Dr Fauci said approving vaccines too early could add to fears they are not safe.
“We’ll be there. We’ll be there very soon,” Dr Fauci said of the US’s efforts to approve vaccines.
America has yet to approve any coronavirus vaccine. But FDA chiefs are scheduled to meet with representatives from Pfizer and Moderna on 10 December to discuss the companies’ emergency approval applications.
Following Tuesday’s approval, the UK’s National Health Service will begin rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine next week, the DHSC said in a statement.
The UK has secured 800,000 doses of the shot, the first of which are already on their way, according to the DHSC.
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, and his health secretary, Matt Hancock, described the MHRA approval as “fantastic” news.
Mr Hancock told Times Radio that the UK was able to make a quick decision on approving the vaccine “because of Brexit”, comments that were echoed by other Cabinet ministers.
But those claims were rebuked by Ms Raine. She said: “We have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until the first of January.”
Mr Johnson was later forced to backtrack on his ministers’ claims.
“These are global efforts, you’ve got scientists around the world coming together to make this possible. It’s a truly international thing and very, very moving to see,” he told a Downing Street press conference.