White House presses FDA chief over COVID-19 vaccine
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows phoned FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn on Friday and pushed him to clear the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine by the end of the day, according to an official familiar with the matter.
According to multiple reports, Meadows suggested to Hahn that his job was in jeopardy if the agency did not act. The Washington Post first reported that Meadows told Hahn to submit his resignation if the vaccine doesn’t receive an emergency use authorization by the end of the day.
The White House declined to comment.
In a statement to The Hill, Hahn denied that there was any threat to his job, or that Meadows pressured him in any way.
"This is an untrue representation of the phone call with the Chief of Staff. The FDA was encouraged to continue working expeditiously on Pfizer-BioNTech’s EUA [emergency use authorization] request. FDA is committed to issuing this authorization quickly, as we noted in our statement this morning," Hahn said.
But the conversation between Hahn and Meadows happened the same day President Trump publicly called on Hahn to move faster.
Trump tweeted that his personal intervention shaved years off the normal vaccine approval process, and called the FDA "a big, old, slow turtle."
He tagged Hahn, telling him to "[g]et the dam [sic] vaccines out NOW." He added that Hahn should "[s]top playing games and start saving lives!!!”
The administration's Operation Warp Speed has invested tens of billions of dollars into vaccine development and distribution, and Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as other companies, have developed and submitted their vaccines for review in record time.
The tweet was the latest broadside against the agency by Trump, who has long complained about the speed of the FDA's approval process.
He blamed the "Deep State" inside the agency for plotting against his reelection bid and accused officials of deliberately slow-walking the vaccine so he couldn't announce its authorization before Election Day.
Trump was also reportedly upset that the United Kingdom approved the vaccine first.
The FDA early Friday said it “will rapidly work toward” emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, after an outside panel of experts endorsed it Thursday.
Authorization was initially expected to occur Saturday or Sunday, but it likely won't make a difference for vaccine delivery. The administration expects to ship 2.9 million doses to states within 24 hours of the vaccine being authorized.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in an ABC News interview Friday that the first vaccinations outside of a clinical trial with the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine could come as soon as Monday or Tuesday.
The U.S. needs 70 percent of the population to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity, and health experts are concerned that people may hesitate because of a perception the vaccine was politically rushed.
Public officials have been working to tamp down concerns and reassure the public that the vaccine is safe and effective.
On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden also offered reassurances.
"I want to make it clear to the public: You should have confidence in this. There is no political influence," Biden said.