White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has pressed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief to authorise emergency use for Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by the end of the day or face possible firing, administration officials say.
The vaccine produced by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech won a critical endorsement on Thursday, US time, from an FDA panel of outside advisers, and sign-off 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.
Mr Meadows spoke to FDA chief Stephen Hahn by telephone on Friday, according to a senior administration official who was familiar with the conversation but was not authorised to discuss private conversations.
The chief of staff also told Dr Hahn his job was in jeopardy if the emergency use authorisation was not issued before Saturday, local time, said a second administration official familiar with the conversation.
Mr Hahn signalled that he would tell regulators to allow the vaccine to be issued on an emergency basis, the official said.
‘Stop playing games’
Dr Hahn disputed characterisations of his conversation with Mr Meadows.
“This is an untrue representation of the phone call with the chief of staff,” Dr Hahn said in a statement.
“The FDA was encouraged to continue working expeditiously on Pfizer-BioNTech’s EUA request. FDA is committed to issuing this authorisation quickly, as we noted in our statement this morning.”
The FDA said earlier on Friday it “will rapidly work” to grant emergency use of the vaccine.
President Donald Trump has been pressing for quick approval for the vaccine and tweeted directly at Dr Hahn earlier on Friday, complaining that FDA “is still a big, old, slow turtle”.
“Get the dam vaccines out NOW, Dr. Hahn,” Mr Trump tweeted Friday. “Stop playing games and start saving lives.”
Mr Trump quoted the Fox Business Network in another tweet: “Donald Trump must get the credit for the vaccines. It is a miracle.”
President-elect Joe Biden said on Friday that “there is no political influence” in the vaccine, and stressed it is scientific research that has “led us to this point”.
Mr Biden said combatting the pandemic is “serious business” that requires “presidential leadership”.
He urged the American public to have confidence in the coronavirus vaccine and reiterated his “bold and doable” commitment to trying to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his administration.
Of the virus, Mr Biden said: “We can wish this away, but we need to face it.”
The outbreak has killed close to 300,000 Americans.
Congress averts shutdown, buys time for COVID-19 talks
The US Senate, facing a midnight deadline on Friday, unanimously approved a one-week extension of federal funding to avoid a government shutdown and to provide more time for separate negotiations on COVID-19 relief and an overarching spending bill.
The Republican-led Senate acted after the Democratic-majority House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the bill on Wednesday. It now goes to Mr Trump for his expected signing into law.
Without this legislation, an array of government programs faced partial shutdown, ranging from some airport operations to national parks and State Department activities.
Congress now will focus on passing a $US1.4 trillion ($1.9 trillion) bill to keep federal operations running through September 2021.
If it fails to reach an agreement by December 18, Congress would either have to pass another stopgap funding bill or trigger government closures.
Meanwhile, negotiators were trying to reach a separate agreement on a new coronavirus aid bill that they would then attach to the massive spending bill.
There were deep disagreements between the two political parties on shielding businesses from lawsuits, which Republicans were demanding, and a state and local government funding package Democrats sought.