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Fauci walks back U.K. "rushed" vaccine approval comments, says he will continue role under Biden

COVID-19 and the presidential transition
COVID-19 and the presidential transition 05:34

Dr. Anthony Fauci is walking back comments he made Thursday criticizing the United Kingdom for rushing through the authorization process for a coronavirus vaccine. 

Fauci had told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett in an interview for this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast, that British regulators failed to adequately scrutinize data from drug manufacturers before approving a vaccine. 

"They kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile," Fauci told Garrett. "They really rushed through that approval." Fauci, however, apologized for his remarks later the same day, and further retreated from them during an interview with "Today" on Friday.

On Friday, Fauci told Savannah Guthrie on NBC News' "Today" show that his criticism of the U.K. process was purely reactionary. "I felt badly that it came across that way," he said. "The reason it did it was just one of those things where I sat down in front of the TV with a British TV station. And the first thing they said was, 'ahh we beat you guys. We beat the Americans to the punch.' And I kind of reacted back at him, when I think I probably should not have done."

"The Brits are good," he added. "They know what they're doing. I mean, they're — they're really pros. So that was just not really what I meant."

Fauci has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) under six presidents. He said Friday that he has accepted President-elect Joe Biden's offer to continue in the role under his administration, and serve as the president's chief medical adviser. 

Britain became the first country in the West to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for public use on Wednesday when it green-lit the vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech. Approval means that the vaccine can start being distributed in the U.K. as early next week.

Pfizer's application for emergency use authorization is still under review in the U.S. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is scheduled to hold a meeting on the matter on December 10. If the drug is granted FDA approval, officials from the White House's Operation Warp Speed say channels are ready to begin distributing vaccine to every state by mid-December, with the first round reserved for priority groups

Fauci said Friday that the FDA's approval process is slower than its U.K. counterpart's because it scrutinizes "every single bit of the data" provided by a company — a difference he noted earlier in the week.

In his "Takeout" interview, Fauci questioned why British scientists took data on the efficacy of the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech at face value instead of taking the time to independently scrutinize its effectiveness, and noted that the U.K. had also been criticized by officials in the European Union.

"They don't just take the word of the company that this is the way it is," Fauci said of the FDA on Friday. "They act like they're really a reviewer for a journal. That's just the way they do it. It's a little bit different than what other regulatory agencies do — I'm not saying it's better, I'm not saying it's worse. It's just different." He added that the FDA is the "gold standard" of regulation, an accolade he has repeatedly bestowed on the agency. 

"I won't back down on this — the FDA in the United States is the gold standard for regulatory, of you know, looking at things like drugs and devices and vaccines, there's no question about that, and I certainly wouldn't apologize for that," Fauci said. 

He told Garrett that rushing is not an option in the U.S. "We have enough problems 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."

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