White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reportedly put pressure on Food and Drug Administration head Stephen Hahn to expedite the approval of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine — or risk losing his job.
Meadows told Hahn on Friday to resign if the vaccine was not authorized by the end of the day, The Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the conversation.
Axios corroborated the Post’s account, saying Meadows suggested to Hahn in a Friday phone call that the FDA commissioner’s job may be at stake over the vaccine.
Hahn disputed this characterization of his call with Meadows, telling Axios in a statement that it was “an untrue representation of the phone call with the Chief of Staff.”
“The FDA was encouraged to continue working expeditiously on Pfizer-BioNTech’s [Emergency Use Authorization] request,” Hahn said of the conversation. “FDA is committed to issuing this authorization quickly, as we noted in our statement this morning.”
The FDA said in the statement that it would work “rapidly toward finalization and issuance of an emergency use authorization” for the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine following Thursday’s endorsement of the vaccine by an FDA advisory committee.
Earlier on Friday, President Donald Trump lambasted the FDA and Hahn in a tweet about the vaccine, calling the agency a “big, old, slow turtle.”
“Get the dam vaccines out NOW, Dr. Hahn,” he wrote. “Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!”
According to the Post, Trump’s goading has propelled the FDA to speed up its approval process for the coronavirus vaccine. The agency is now expected to clear the vaccine by the end of Friday, instead of Saturday as had been planned previously, the Post reported.
Experts warned that Trump’s efforts to compel the FDA to accelerate the vaccine approval process could only increase public mistrust in the vaccine.
“The President creating political theater around the release of vaccines doesn’t help anyone,” Nahid Bhadelia, associate professor of medicine at Boston University and medical director at the Boston Medical Center Special Pathogens Unit, told HuffPost. “If anything, by creating the appearance that he is making FDA release vaccines under political duress, he is only making a segment of the public lose trust in the approval process.”
Jonathan Cohn contributed reporting.
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