WASHINGTON: The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday authorised emergency use of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s novel coronavirus vaccine after US President Donald Trump’s chief of staff threatened firing the body’s commissioner.
A report is said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to be prepared to submit his resignation if the vaccine was not cleared by the day’s end.
The FDA had already planned to clear the vaccine Saturday morning and the acceleration of authorisation does not change delivery timeline of the first shots. It will be given to people aged 16 and above. Healthcare workers and elderly people in long-term care facilities are expected to be the main recipients of a first round of 2.9 million doses this month.
The vaccine, developed by a Turkish couple, has shown to be 95% effective in preventing the disease in a late-stage trial. Pfizer has said it would start shipping immediately and state public health systems have been planning to begin shots as early as Monday.
The US government plans to accelerate vaccinations in the coming weeks and months, especially if a second vaccine from Moderna Inc is quickly approved. An advisory group to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet on Saturday to make crucial recommendations about whether some groups such as pregnant women and 16-year-olds should be immunised.
The authorisation comes as cases are surging in the United States, with thousands of death per day, while hospital intensive care units across the country are nearing capacity, threatening to overwhelm healthcare systems. The pandemic has killed more than 295,000 people in the US.