America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, apologized Thursday after suggesting that regulators in the United Kingdom rushed the process to approve Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“I have a great deal of confidence in what the U.K. does both scientifically and from a regulatory standpoint,” Fauci told the BBC on Thursday.
One day earlier, the United Kingdom became the first Western country to approve of a coronavirus vaccine. Regulators authorized emergency use of the drug developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, and said they expect the first vaccine doses to be available nationwide beginning next week.
After the announcement, Fauci questioned the speed at which regulators in the U.K. made that decision, telling CBS News that the process was “rushed.”
“In all fairness to so many of my U.K. friends, they kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile,” Fauci said. “They really rushed through that approval.”
He walked back the comments later Thursday, telling the BBC that the process to approve of a vaccine in the U.S. takes longer than it does in the U.K., “and that’s just the reality.”
“I did not mean to imply any sloppiness, even though it came out that way,” he said.
During an appearance Friday on NBC’s “Today” show, Fauci said he regretted his comments.
“It was just one of those things where I sat down in front of the TV with a British TV station, and the first thing they said was, ‘Ah, we beat you guys, we beat the Americans to the punch,’” Fauci said. “And I kind of reacted back at him when I think I probably should not have done.”
He reiterated that “the Brits are good. They know what they’re doing.”
“Our process is a little bit different,” he said. “What our FDA does is that they scrutinize every single bit of the data themselves. They don’t just take the word of the company that this is the way it is.”
Regulators with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are scheduled to meet next week to consider data from the clinical trial of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine. Last month, officials with the companies said the drug was 95% effective in its clinical trial.
Biotechnology company Moderna on Monday asked the FDA to approve emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine. The company had announced that a clinical trial found the drug to be 94% effective.
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet Dec. 15 to review the company’s data.
Officials said they expect the first vaccine doses to be delivered by Dec. 15, if the FDA authorizes emergency use for the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine next week.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID-19 cases, with more than 14.1 million reported as of Friday morning, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. More than 276,000 people in the U.S. have died of the viral infection.
Worldwide, more than 65.3 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported since the virus was first detected in December 2019, resulting in over 1.5 million deaths.
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