The two men had a call Friday morning. A White House official said they do not comment on private conversations but the chief “regularly requests updates on the progress toward a vaccine.”
“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 (emergency use authorization) request,” Hahn said in a statement Friday afternoon. “FDA is committed to issuing this authorization quickly, as we noted in our statement this morning.”
A White House official familiar with the conversation between Meadows and Hahn said it’s doubtful the FDA commissioner will actually be fired. The blunt warning from the chief of staff that he might as well resign if Pfizer’s emergency use authorization isn’t granted by Friday was a larger sign of the President’s frustration, this person said.
Public health experts have been fearful all along that White House officials would put undue pressure on the authorization process and, in turn, compromise public confidence in the vaccine, a source close to the White House coronavirus task force told CNN.
This source said it’s unclear why Meadows would make such a threat this late in the process and that authorization of the vaccine is expected at any moment. This person added that authorization could come by the end of Friday.
Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the head of the US government’s effort to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Friday he was concerned about the reports’ potential effect on undermining confidence in the vaccine’s safety.
“Yes, I think there is an opportunity there for people to see undue pressure if the story is right,” he said while also defending the FDA’s authorization process, which he described as “an effective, transparent, thorough, in-depth review.”
On Friday, he called the FDA “a big, old, slow turtle.”
“I want to make it clear to the public, you should have confidence in this — there is no political influence,” Biden said. “These are first-rate scientists taking their time looking at all of the elements that need to be looked at. Scientific integrity led us to this point.”
This story has been updated with additional background information and reaction.
CNN’s Caroline Kelly contributed to this report.