White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Friday warned FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn that he could be ousted if his agency fails to quickly authorize the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
The threat came on the same day that President Donald Trump blasted the agency, calling his own FDA a “big, old, slow turtle” on Twitter and urging Hahn to “get the dam vaccines out NOW.” And it came on the eve of when the FDA was already expected to authorize the vaccine.
It’s the latest instance of the White House putting pressure on its health officials to speed up the delicate vaccine process, amid deep frustration over the pace of progress and the fact that several other countries have already authorized the Covid-19 vaccine for distribution. Trump and other White House officials have complained for weeks that the FDA is overly bureaucratic and moving too slowly, especially as thousands of Covid-19 deaths pile up.
But Hahn has insisted on sticking to a timeline that is already moving at record speed, over worries that accelerating the FDA’s work even further would damage public trust in the vaccine and risk missing potential safety issues.
Those concerns became more pronounced in recent days, when two patients in the U.K. suffered allergic reactions after receiving the vaccine.
The FDA had already planned to authorize the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech as early as this weekend, after an advisory panel on Thursday endorsed the shot. One central element that the agency still needs to finalize is the labeling of the vaccine, which includes specific instructions and warnings related to the potential for allergic reactions, according to one of the people with knowledge of the situation.
Yet during a Friday phone call, Meadows pressured Hahn to move faster, hinting that he could be forced to resign if the FDA did not greenlight the vaccine by the end of the day, the people with knowledge of the situation said. The Washington Post first reported the exchange.
Meadows has played a central role in putting “immense pressure” on Hahn over the vaccine for several weeks, a senior administration official said.
Another person with knowledge of the matter said this was not the first time that a White House official has raised the prospect that Hahn could be ousted, and that Hahn left the meeting “focused and unphased.”
In a statement, Hahn called the account of the call “an untrue representation” and that the FDA instead “was encouraged to continue working expeditiously on Pfizer-BioNTech’s EUA request,” a reference to the upcoming emergency use authorization.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read more: politico.com