Leading American infectious disease scientist Anthony Fauci criticized Britain on Thursday for rushing through its approval process for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, suggesting the move could undermine public faith.
His comments came a day after Britain became the first Western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, prompting some skepticism among the country's European neighbors and suggestions that the process was politicized.
Widely-respected Fauci, who leads the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News on Thursday: "In all fairness to so many of my UK friends, you know, they kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile.
"I think that would be a good metaphor for it... because they really rushed through that approval."
He contrasted Britain's regulator with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which he called "the gold standard of regulation."
"They're doing it in a very careful way, appropriately, because if we did anything that was cutting corners and rushing, we have enough problem(s) with people being skeptical about taking a vaccine anyway," he said.
"If we had jumped over the hurdle here quickly and inappropriately to gain an extra week or a week and a half, I think that the credibility of our regulatory process would have been damaged."
Fauci added "I love the Brits" and said he had respect for the country's scientists.
"But they just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said, 'OK, let's approve it. That's it,' and they went with it.
"In fact, they were even rather severely criticized by their European Union counterparts who were saying, you know, 'That was kind of a hot dog play.'"
British ministers claimed Brexit had allowed them to adopt the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine ahead of their neighbors, who are still awaiting a green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Britain is still under EU drug marketing rules until December 31, the end of a post-Brexit transition period, but has approved the vaccine under an emergency provision in European law.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn, addressing a videoconference of his EU colleagues, said Wednesday: "The idea is not to be first, but to have a safe and efficient vaccine."
"It is a matter of expertise, obviously, authorization. But as we've seen from comments from the UK, it's also a political issue for the European Union," he added.