White House presses FDA chief over COVID-19 vaccine

Top Trump administration officials are turning up the heat on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to quickly authorize emergency use of the country’s first coronavirus vaccine.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows phoned FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn on Friday and pushed him to clear the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine by the end of the day, according to an official familiar with the matter.

According to multiple reports, Meadows suggested to Hahn that his job was in jeopardy if the agency did not act. The Washington Post first reported that Meadows told Hahn to submit his resignation if the vaccine doesn’t receive an emergency use authorization by the end of the day.

In a statement to The Hill, Hahn denied that there was any threat to his job, or that Meadows pressured him in any way.

“This is an untrue representation of the phone call with the Chief of Staff. The FDA was encouraged to continue working expeditiously on Pfizer-BioNTech’s EUA [emergency use authorization] request. FDA is committed to issuing this authorization quickly, as we noted in our statement this morning,” Hahn said.

Past evidence: But the conversation between Hahn and Meadows happened the same day President Trump tweeted his disapproval to Hahn, and called the FDA “a big, old, slow turtle.”

He tagged Hahn in the tweet, telling him to “[g]et the dam [sic] vaccines out NOW.” He added that Hahn should “[s]top playing games and start saving lives!!!”

What’s next: The pressure reportedly led the FDA to accelerate its timetable for clearing America’s first vaccine from Saturday to later Friday. Once FDA gives authorization, a panel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will vote on which groups should and should not get the vaccine, and then it will be able to get injected into people.

The consequence: It’s not clear why Trump and Meadows want to pressure Hahn, and it’s not likely a decision Friday would make any difference in when the first vaccine doses can get delivered. The agency’s process is designed to leave no room for public doubt, especially since a vaccine was developed and submitted for review in record time. The Trump White House decided to inject politics into science, yet again.