Top U.S. infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci retracted on Thursday for casting doubt on the British regulators’ rigor who passed the Pfizer Inc vaccine against COVID-19, saying he had faith in the quality of their work.
Britain announced the vaccine’s approval on Wednesday, with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) saying it had rigorously evaluated the vaccine data and had cut no corners.
It gave the U.K. the jump in the race to begin mass vaccination against a virus that has killed nearly 1.5 million people globally and pounded the world economy. U.S. and European Union regulators are sorting through the same Pfizer vaccine trial data, but have yet to approve it.
In a CBS interview on Thursday, Fauci proposed the British regulators had failed to examine the data enough and had waved the vaccine through – comments that were prominently stated on the main British TV news channels.
He later gave an interview to the BBC in which he said his old comments had come out wrong.
“There has been a mistake, and for that I’m sorry, and I apologize for that,” he said. “I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the administrative community in the U.K.,” Fauci said.
“I did not mean to apply any sloppiness, even though it came out that way,” he added.
Fauci said the point he had been trying to make was that in the U.S. context, with widespread vaccine skepticism, it would not have been appropriate to conduct the process in the same way and at the same speed that happened in Britain.
“If we had, for example, approved it yesterday or tomorrow, there likely would have been pushback on an already scrutinizing society,” he said.
“You know, at the end of the day, it’s going to be safe, it’s going to be effective, the people in the U.K. are going to receive it and they’re going to do really well, and the people in the United States are going to receive it and we’re going to do pretty well,” Fauci said.
In response to his earlier criticism, the MHRA issued a statement saying it had “rigorously assessed the data in the shortest time possible without compromising the thoroughness of our review”.
The regulator also said its emergency approval had allowed “some stages of this process to happen in parallel to condense the time needed, but it does not mean steps and the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been bypassed”.
Fauci is the most high-profile member of the White House coronavirus task force and has often clashed with President Donald Trump on protecting Americans from the virus, which has caused about 273,000 U.S. deaths.
On Thursday, president-elect Joe Biden said he had requested Fauci to be the chief medical adviser on his COVID-19 team when he takes office on Jan. 20.