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FDA Commissioner Denies White House Pressured Agency for Quick Vaccine Approval

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn testifies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 2020.
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn testifies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 2020. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters)

Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn on Sunday pushed back on reports that the White House pressured him to rush approval of a coronavirus vaccine, saying the approval process relied on a “thorough scientific review.”

Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper whether White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had suggested that if the FDA did not grant emergency use authorization for the vaccine more quickly “it would be more difficult for you to continue in your job,” Hahn said that was not the case.

“I’ve been really clear about this in my public statements. That is an inaccurate representation of the conversation,” Hahn responded before declining to give “specifics about the conversation.”

Pressed for details, Hahn acknowledged that “we have heard from a number of sources, including the White House, that there was a desire for us to move as quickly as possible,” adding that the agency has done so but did not compromise safety along the way.

“Our absolute obligation to the American people was to make sure we did a thorough scientific review,” Hahn said. “We needed to ensure that our gold standard of assessing the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine was done and was done properly.”

“We had to get this right, and I believe we did,” he added.

The FDA on Saturday granted emergency-use authorization for drug-maker Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine. Millions of the most vulnerable Americans are expected to begin receiving doses within days.

On Friday, President Trump scolded the FDA and Hahn himself, calling the agency a big, old, slow turtle” that is “money drenched but heavily bureaucratic.”

Stop playing games and start saving lives!!!” Trump wrote in a tweet addressing Hahn.

Asked about Trump’s tweet, Hahn was firm in his insistence that no external pressure influence the FDA’s decision to approve the vaccine.

“We have been very clear, and I’ll say it again here, that nothing guided our decision, no external comments, no external pressure other than the science and data guided our decision-making,” Hahn said. “Our timeline, how we approached this, was based upon our thorough review of the science and data. That’s the promise we made to the American people, the transparency around that, and that’s what we did.”

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