With so much on the line in the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, it was bound to get ugly.
When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took aim at the MHRA, Britain’s version of the FDA, saying it’s “not on par with ours,” the chair of the U.K.’s Vaccine Taskforce had to call her out.
“With great respect to Nancy Pelosi, I just don’t think she’s correct,” said Kate Bingham. “I think the MHRA standards for safety and efficacy and our track record of robust evaluation as a regulator is world class. So I just don’t think she is right to say that the FDA standards are held to a higher standard than those of the MHRA.”
Pelosi’s comments may be a preemptive in case President Trump plans on invoking emergency powers to greenlight a vaccine, saying “if Boris Johnson decides he’s going to approve a drug and this president embraces that, that’s the concern I have.”
But it underlines the tensions even between traditional allies as several vaccine candidates get closer to reality.
Bingham said there is a slim chance there may be a vaccine by Christmas.
“There is a slim chance,” she said. “I think it’s more likely that it’ll be in early next year.”
That optimism comes with caveats. Bingham said it’s not a one-size-fits-all, or a one-and-done. “So I think we’re going to have to find vaccines that will provide as much protection as possible, and then we’re likely to have to give booster vaccines, much like, again, a flu shot.”
She said initial recipients will be those who need it most: the elderly, the vulnerable and health care workers.
A vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca continues to be among the frontrunners in the U.K., but it has fallen behind in the United States, where clinical trials remain on pause under FDA orders.
Pfizer has been the most aggressive in its timeline, but the company has said it has no intention of applying for emergency authorization before the end of November, taking itself out of the running in President Trump’s promise a vaccine will be ready before Election Day.
The final stretch of this race may ultimately come down to the regulators.
“As soon as they’ve got the data, they can file with the regulatory authorities around the world. And then there will be a race between the regulatory authorities as to who approves. Who will be quicker? I have no idea,” said Bingham. “What I do know is that I think it’s unlikely that the MHRA will be subject to political pressure and certainly as reported in the press, that may not be always the case in the States.”
But she added: “I don’t think any amount of political pressure will affect what the FDA actually does and what the vaccine companies do, because there is a very clear commitment to safety and efficacy. And it’s not in anybody’s interest to approve a vaccine that isn’t safe and efficacious and that has met all the tests.”
Bingham said it’s likely a number of vaccines will be rolled out in the months ahead in the U.K., the U.S. and around the world.
“Are we going to be going on holiday next summer? I think there would be people that would say, yes, we are going on holiday next summer, and traveling. And what about next Christmas? Will we be able to kiss and hug our loved ones in big parties and have New Year’s parties? I would hope we would be able to do that next Christmas,” she said.