The UK is getting a coronavirus vaccine first because it is a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US, a Cabinet minister has declared.
Gavin Williamson praised the work done by the medical regulator to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use.
The Education Secretary said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has “brilliant” experts.
The European regulator has criticised the approval of the vaccine using emergency powers, insisting that its own, slower approach is more appropriate.
Mr Williamson said the UK’s status as the first country to approve a vaccine is due to its superior experts.
“I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have,” he told LBC Radio.
“That doesn’t surprise me at because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.”
However, unlike Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Mr Williamson did not suggest that Brexit had directly contributed.
“I think just being able to get on with things, deliver it and the brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the western world to get that Pfizer vaccine,” he said.
“Real competitive advantage, but do you know who it’s down to?
“It’s down to those brilliant, brilliant clinicians in the regulator who’ve made it happen so fast, so our thanks go out to them because by doing what they’ve done, they’re going to have saved lives.”
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said the MHRA’s experts are “very good” but “we are definitely not in the game of comparing regulators across countries, nor on commenting on claims as to who is better”.
“This is not a football competition, we are talking about the life and health of people,” he said.
Downing Street however defended Mr Williamson’s comments, saying he was entitled to express his pride in the UK.
“I think what you have seen is the Secretary of State, rightly, being proud of the United Kingdom,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
“We are proud of the action that we have taken throughout the pandemic to protect the public and save lives.
“I think the Secretary of State was emphasising his pride in the United Kingdom.”
On Tuesday, Mr Hancock suggested that Brexit had allowed the UK to move quicker on the vaccine – a claim disputed by the MHRA and the EU.
MHRA chief June Raine said it is still bound by EU law until the end of the year and “our progress has been totally dependent on the availability of data in our rolling review and the independent advice we have received”.
The EMA suggested that it is imposing more stringent checks than the emergency process used by the MHRA.
The EMA believes that its conditional marketing authorisation (CMA) process is “the most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency”.
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But to get there, we need:
🛡️Safe & effective vaccines
👨⚕️Deployment by 🇪🇺 Member States
🔎Clear & unbiased information
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A CMA application is supported by “extensive data” submitted by companies and “provides a controlled and robust framework”.
Dr Berkeley Phillips, medical director of Pfizer UK, compared the process to a book, with the necessary chapters written but not yet fully bound into a complete work.
He told reporters: “In an emergency situation, the MHRA have effectively said ‘We can see what we need to see from those chapters in this book – the book still needs to be written in totality – but, given the crisis that we’re in, we have seen enough to be confident to give this emergency authorisation’.”