Matt Hancock has hailed the approval of the Pfizer/BioNtech coronavirus vaccine as “a day to remember in a year to forget”, describing the jab as a “victory for science”.
The health secretary earlier claimed the fast approval of the vaccine – which makes the UK the first country in the world to authorise one – was “because of Brexit”.
In an interview with Times Radio this morning (Wednesday), Hancock said the vaccine’s fast approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was firstly down to the regulator’s work with Pfizer/BioNTech.
He continued: “The second reason is because, whilst until earlier this year we were in the European Medicines Agency [EMA], because of Brexit we’ve been able to make a decision to do this based on the UK regulator, a world-class regulator, and not go at the pace of the Europeans, who are moving a little bit more slowly.
“We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they’re done because of Brexit.”
However, the MHRA’s chief executive, Dr June Raine, CEO told this morning’s Downing Street briefing: “We have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until 1 January.”
Section 174 of the Human Medicines Regulations allows for medicine approvals in emergencies such as pandemics, and an MHRA statement published on November 18, on the government’s website, states: “EU legislation allows for temporary authorisation of supply in the UK, based on the public health need”.
Rees-Mogg repeats false Brexit boast
Despite the facts, other Tories repeated Hancock’s fale Brexit boast, including the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who posted: “We could only approve this vaccine so quickly because we have left the EU. Last month we changed the regulations so a vaccine did not need EU approval which is slower.”
Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, tweeted: “Worth noting that if we were still in the #EU, we would not have been allowed to roll out the #Covid vaccine. #UK passed regulations last week permitting this.”
Associate professor of law at University of East Anglia, Paul Bernal tweeted to clear the confusion arising from the claims. “The essence is simple,” writes Bernal. “We used an exception which exists in EU law to expedite approval in emergency situations. We could have done exactly the same before Brexit – and the transition arrangements mean EU law still applies anyway.”
During this evening’s (Wednesday) press briefing, Boris Johnson deftly distanced himself from the claims of Hancock, Rees-Mogg and Fabricant, and declined the opportunity to call the vaccine’s approval a “Brexit bonus”.
‘Today is a triumph for humanity’ – Hancock
The vaccination will be available next week and health workers will be be among the first to receive it. The UK has ordered 40 million doses (enough for 20 million people) of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which has proven to be 95% effective against the virus and works in all age groups.
Addressing the Commons, Hancock said: “In our battle against the virus, help is on its way. Today is a triumph for all those who believe in science, a triumph for ingenuity, a triumph for humanity and I want to thank everyone who’s played their part in this achievement.”
Hancock said the deployment of the vaccine presents one of the biggest logistical challenges faced by the UK. “There will be challenges and complications. But I know that the NHS is equal to the task. Rolling out the vaccine -free at the point of delivery, not on the ability to pay – is in the finest spirit of the NHS, and I’m delighted to confirm the NHS will be able to start vaccinating from next week.”
‘Vaccine meets the strictest requirements’
Commenting on the quick approval of the vaccine, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “This follows months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA who have concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.”
During this morning’s Downing Street briefing, the MHRA’s Dr Raine said “no corners had been cut” and insisted the vaccine “meets the strictest requirements of safety, of effectiveness, and of quality.”
Hancock has offered to get vaccinated live on television, according to the Telegraph, “in order to convince people that it is safe”.