The United States Food and Drug Administration has told coronavirus vaccine developers it wants at least two months of safety data from half of their trial volunteers in order to authorise emergency use, a requirement that would likely push any US vaccine availability past the November 3 presidential election.
The FDA advice was released on Tuesday as part of documents posted ahead of a meeting of the agency’s panel of outside experts later this month to discuss coronavirus vaccines under development.
The FDA had originally submitted the two-month requirement as official guidelines, which were blocked by White House officials, the New York Times reported on Monday.
US President Donald Trump poses atop the Truman Balcony of the White House after taking off his protective face mask as he returns from being hospitalised at Walter Reed Medical Center for COVID-19 treatment [Erin Scott/Reuters]The White House could still force authorisation of a vaccine without that additional safety data. Doing so would put it in open disagreement with the FDA and its career scientists, and add to the perception that politics played a role in pushing out a vaccine.
If the agency follows its own advice, it is unlikely to authorise a vaccine before sometime in late November.
President Donald Trump has frequently mentioned during his campaign a vaccine for the virus, which has killed more than 210,000 people in the US and infected almost 7.5 million according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.
Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech are currently expected to be the first vaccine developers to announce results from a late-stage US clinical trial.
About half of the volunteers in the 44,000-subject Phase III trial had received the second dose of the two-shot vaccine by late September.
Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla tweeted on Tuesday that the company had not discussed the FDA’s standards with the White House, saying that could compromise the agency’s independence.
— AlbertBourla (@AlbertBourla) October 6, 2020
The FDA’s “public servants are known for their high integrity and scientific expertise and we have full faith in their ability to set appropriate standards for the approval of a COVID vaccine or treatment,” Bourla said.
The FDA expects to hold separate meetings of its vaccine advisory committee before issuing an emergency use authorisation for any experimental shot.