Celebrating Britain's swift approval of BioNtech and Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine as a benefit of Brexit is misplaced since the vaccine was itself a product of the European Union that Britain has left, German health minister Jens Spahn said.
Some hailed Britain's success in being first to approve the vaccine, developed by Pfizer with German biotechnology start-up BioNtech, as a pay-off from leaving the EU's regulatory orbit.
But Spahn told journalists at an EU briefing on Wednesday that, while Britain had been the first to approve the vaccine, he was optimistic that the European Medicines Agency would soon follow.
“But a few remarks on Brexit to my British friends,” he said. “BioNtech is a European development, from the EU. The fact that this EU product is so good that Britain approved it so quickly shows that in this crisis European and international cooperation are best,” he said.
The head of Britain's medicines regulator, June Raine, earlier told a televised briefing that Britain's fast-tracked vaccine approval was done under provisions of European law, which the country is required to follow until the end of this month under its transition arrangements for leaving the bloc.
Covid BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine approved for use next week in UK. Fantastic news. Was always convinced that cross border cooperation was crucial in defeating the virus. A German/US vaccine approved in the UK for the 1st time: this is not a national thing. https://t.co/78xvJKmVCx
— Andreas Michaelis (@GermanAmbUK) December 2, 2020
Though Spahn has himself said he was proud that a German company, founded by a husband-and-wife team of Turkish immigrant background, had created the vaccine, he was not the only official irritated at Britons celebrating being the first to approve as a national triumph.
When British business minister Alok Sharma hailed the approval on Twitter as “the day the UK led humanity's charge against the disease”, Germany's ambassador to London fired off a testy response.
“I really don't think this is a national story,” Andreas Michaelis tweeted. “In spite of the German company BioNTech having made a crucial contribution this is European and transatlantic.”