Despite the historically rapid production of vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump has continued to put pressure on both public and private entities to ensure Americans have access as soon as possible.
According to a pair of anonymous sources cited by the Associated Press, however, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows went a step further by threatening the Food and Drug Administration commissioner’s job if the Pfizer vaccine had not been approved for emergency use by Friday.
“Stop playing games”
Meadows’ alleged ultimatum came during a tense phone call with FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn in which the chief of staff was acting on the president’s behalf.
The two sources asserted that Meadows informed Hahn that his job was on the line if the Pfizer vaccine did not receive the necessary approvals to begin distribution.
Those allegations come as Trump publicly derided his own federal government’s response in a tweet on Friday, calling out Hahn by name for “playing games” with the approval process.
“While my pushing the money drenched but heavily bureaucratic [FDA] saved five years in the approval of NUMEROUS great new vaccines, it is still a big, old, slow turtle,” he wrote. “Get the dam [sic] vaccines out NOW, Dr. Hahn. Stop playing games and start saving lives!!”
In an announcement later in the day, the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech received the much-anticipated emergency-use authorization.
“An untrue representation”
For his part, Hahn disputed the tone and contents of the call with Meadows as described in the AP report.
“This is an untrue representation of the phone call with the Chief of Staff,” the director explained in a statement. “The FDA was encouraged to continue working expeditiously on Pfizer-BioNTech’s EUA request. FDA is committed to issuing this authorization quickly, as we noted in our statement this morning.”
Pushing back again on Saturday morning, he addressed the issue during a conference call with reporters.
“Representations in the press that I was threatened to be fired if we didn’t get it done by a certain date is inaccurate,” Hahn said, asserting that the late-night approval came because the FDA had deemed the vaccine ready and not because of “any other external pressure.”
While the promising vaccine has already gone through rigorous clinical trials, some critics believe that Trump’s public pressure on rapid FDA approval could backfire by decreasing the level of trust the American people have in its safety and efficacy.