LONDON — Dr. Anthony Fauci has apologized after appearing to criticize the U.K.’s process for approving a Covid-19 vaccine, comments that ruffled British feathers in a week marked by displays of nationalistic excitement at being the first Western country to approve the rollout of a vaccine.
In a series of interviews, Fauci questioned the level of scrutiny the British regulators had given the authorization process of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which was approved for widespread use in the U.K. on Wednesday. Fauci even suggested that the process had been rushed after Britain became the first nation to formally approve the vaccine.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Sky News that U.K. authorities had analyzed the data from the vaccine “very quickly” and in a way that is much “less deep” than what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was doing.
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“The FDA in the United States, I think, everyone realizes globally is the gold standard of regulatory function,” he said.
Fauci later rowed back on his comments, telling the BBC that what he meant to say was that U.S. authorities do things differently than their British counterparts, not better, but his comments came out wrong.
“There really has been a misunderstanding and for that I’m sorry,” he told the broadcaster. “I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the regulatory community at the U.K.”
Speaking to Savannah Guthrie on TODAY, Fauci said Friday his remarks to Sky News were “taken out of context.”
“The Brits are good, they know what they’re doing, they’re really pros,” he said.
The U.K. Department of Health and Social Care confirmed to NBC News Friday that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine was in the country and the government has said the first inoculations are set to be rolled out next week.
The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, defended its approach to the vaccine in a statement issued Friday.
“We are well aware of our national situation and therefore we have mounted teams, built our capability and worked in parallel,” MHRA chief executive June Raine said in a statement. “The public can be absolutely confident that the standards we have worked to are equivalent to those around the world.”
Stephen Evans, a professor of Pharmacoepidemiology at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he thought Fauci had “over-stated” concerns about the U.K. assessment process of the Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine.
“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,” he said in a statement put out by the U.K.’s Science Media Center before Fauci’s clarification to the BBC.
Fauci’s comments landed as some British officials pointed to the vaccine rollout as a sign the U.K. superiority.
The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, said Thursday that the U.K. got the coronavirus vaccine first because it has “the best” medical regulators much better than those in the U.S., France or Belgium.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all, because we’re a much better country than every single one of them,” he told LBC radio station.
Williamson’s comments came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed that the U.K. was able to move faster on approving the vaccine because it had left the European Union. And Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, said on Twitter that in years to come “we will remember this moment as the day the U.K. led humanity’s charge against this disease.”
Sharma’s comment prompted the German Ambassador to the U.K., Andreas Michaelis, to publicly respond saying “why is it so difficult to recognize this important step forward as a great international effort and success.”
“I really don’t think this is a national story,” Michaelis tweeted, pointing out that the German company BioNTech made a crucial contribution to what he described as a “European and transatlantic” achievement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Mahalia Dobson contributed.