Britain’s move to grant emergency authorization to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is a crucial step toward mass vaccinations that could end the pandemic. But how did its regulators move so fast?
“If you’re climbing a mountain, you prepare and prepare,” Dr. June Raine, the chief executive of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, said on Wednesday. “We started that in June.”
When early results arrived on Nov. 10, she said, “We were at base camp.” And later, she said, “When we got the final analysis, we were ready for that last sprint.”
Here are three key points about how Britain was able to move quickly.
The United States and Britain vet vaccines differently. While American regulators pore over raw data from vaccine makers to validate their results, their counterparts in Britain and elsewhere lean more heavily on companies’ own analyses, a faster process. American regulators maintain that their thorough approach ensures safety.
British regulators seek opinions from a specialist committee, similar to the outside panel of experts the Food and Drug Administration uses to assess vaccine candidates. But while the F.D.A.’s panel is being convened on Dec. 10, Britain’s committee has met as it needed to about the Pfizer vaccine, for more than 40 hours, its chairman said on Wednesday.
Britain did not have to wait for the European Union to act, owing to emergency regulatory powers that the bloc gives countries in the case of a pandemic. Once Britain consummates its split from the European Union on Dec. 31, those powers to approve vaccines on its own will become permanent.