WASHINGTON: White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Friday pressed Food and Drug Adminis­tration chief Stephen Hahn to grant an emergency use authorisation for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by the end of the day or face possible firing, two administration officials said.

The vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech won a critical endorsement on Thursday from an FDA panel of outside advisers, and signoff from the agency which is expected within days is the next step needed to get the shots to the public.

The FDA is not required to follow the guidance of its advisory committees, but often does.

Meadows spoke to Hahn by telephone on Friday, according to a senior administration official.

The chief of staff also told Hahn his job was in jeopardy if the emergency use authorisation was not issued before Saturday, said a second administration official.

Hahn signalled that he would tell regulators to allow the vaccine to be issued on an emergency basis, the official said.

President Donald Trump has been pressing for quick approval for the vaccine and tweeted directly at Hahn earlier in the day, complaining that FDA “is still a big, old, slow turtle”. Trump has publicly bashed the pace of the FDA’s vaccine review process.

“Get the dam vaccines out NOW, Dr Hahn,” Trump tweeted. “Stop playing games and start saving lives.”

Hahn disputed characterisations of his conversation with Meadows.

“This is an untrue representation of the phone call with the Chief of Staff,” Hahn said in a statement. “The FDA was encouraged to continue working expeditiously on Pfizer-BioNTechs EUA request. FDA is committed to issuing this authorisation quickly, as we noted in our statement this morning.”

The FDA said earlier that it “will rapidly work to grant emergency use of the vaccine”.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2020

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