Donald Trump 'livid' with US regulator as UK approves Covid vaccine first

Nick Allen
·3-min read
Donald Trump - Reuters
Donald Trump - Reuters

Donald Trump summoned the head of the US vaccine regulator to the White House amid frustration that America had not moved faster with approval.

The US president was said to be livid that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had yet to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, having hoped the US would be the first country to do so.

On Tuesday morning, amid suggestions the UK was close to approval, the in-person presence of Dr Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, was requested by Mark Meadows, Mr Trump's chief of staff.

There had been speculation that Mr Trump would fire him but, after the 90-minute meeting, the FDA said that "Dr Hahn remains FDA commissioner".

Watch: Dr. Scott Atlas, Who Fought Against COVID Lockdowns, Resigns From Trump Admin Special Adviser Post

The FDA has been reviewing thousands of pages of technical information on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as it deliberates whether to authorise "emergency use" for high-risk groups.

It has scheduled public meetings for December 10 and 17 to review the vaccines, and is expected to make decisions before the end of the year. Pfizer applied for emergency use authorisation on November 20.

White House officials frustrated by the time lag were reportedly unhappy that Dr Hahn spent a week in North Carolina last month. The FDA responded that he was working remotely from there while quarantining after exposure to the virus.

FDA Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn - Reuters
FDA Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn - Reuters

Mr Trump has told aides he believes a slow approval process for the vaccine is continuing to undermine his popularity.

Despite the pressure from the White House, Dr Hahn said the FDA would take the time needed to "get this right", adding: "No one at FDA is sitting on his or her hands. Everyone is working really hard to look at these applications and get this done. But we absolutely have to do this the right way.

"We will make sure that our scientists take the time they need to make an appropriate decision. It is our job to get this right and make the correct decision regarding vaccine safety and efficacy."

There were also differences between the UK and US approval processes, Dr Hahn said, adding: "FDA is one of the few regulatory agencies in the world that actually looks at the raw data. We are going to do our own analysis."

But one US official told Politico: "It's crazy to imagine the European Union or UK may approve a vaccine developed in the United States before us though, right?"

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said: "We will never apologise for putting the fire under these agencies. We want a safe vaccine, absolutely. We also want a fast one because lives are at stake and a vaccine by the end of the year is key and paramount."

Mr Trump believes the vaccine should be a key part of his presidential legacy. Last weekend, he said: "They will try and say that Biden came up with the vaccines. Don't let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me, and I pushed people harder than they've ever been pushed before."

Watch: Trump coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas resigns