Britain authorizes use of the Pfizer vaccine

The United Kingdom has become the first Western nation to authorize a vaccine against the Wuhan coronavirus. The UK granted emergency authorization for a vaccine produced by Pfizer, an American company, and BioNTech, its German partner.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine — enough to vaccinate 20 million people. Apparently, 800,000 doses will delivered from Pfizer’s facilities in Belgium to the UK next week, with many millions more to follow before the end of the year.

Elderly people in care homes, those who care for them, health workers, and other vulnerable people will be top of the priority list. That makes sense to me.

Approval of the Pfizer vaccine by British authorities places pressure on other nations to approve the same vaccine. Every nation should make an independent determination as to the safety of the vaccine. But once a nation like the UK approves a vaccine, it’s fair to ask why, in light of that approval, one’s own authorities haven’t granted approval.

President Trump has already demanded to know why the FDA hasn’t approved the Pfizer vaccine. To get an answer, his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, met with FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn yesterday.

Hahn issued this statement:

Let me be clear — our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision.

Fine. But are the FDA “career scientists” smarter than their counterparts in the UK? Are they more thorough? Or do they lack the same sense of urgency?

The FDA says it’s more thorough. Alone among the world’s regulators, it apparently reanalyzes thousands of pages of raw data from vaccine trials before granting approval, rather than accepting the findings of vaccine makers.

Reportedly, the FDA is waiting for a December 10 meeting of outside experts before making a decision. That’s more than a week away.

Maybe the delay is necessary to reanalyze all the raw data or for some other purpose. But Britain’s committee of specialists met for a total of 40 hours before making its decision.

No one wants the FDA to approve a vaccine that isn’t safe. But with almost 200,000 new infections per day in America, if the FDA delays for even just one week the approval of a vaccine that is in fact safe, many lives will be lost as a result.