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Gavin Williamson: UK better than France, US and Belgium, says minister on vaccine race win

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Britain's Secretary of Education Gavin Williamson.
Britain's Secretary of Education Gavin Williamson.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim
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A government minister claimed the UK was a better country than France, Belgium or the US after being asked why Britain was the first to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Asked by LBC's Nick Ferrari whether the UK's exit from the Europan Union was to be credited for the speed upon which British regulators approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Williamson replied: "I just reckon we've got the very best people in this country."

"We've obviously got the best medical regulators, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have. That doesn't surprise me at all because we're a much better country than every single one of them," he added.

Williamson's comments came a day after Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the country's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had approved the vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer — a US company — and Germany's BioNTech and that it would be deployed as early as next week. The country has secured 40 million doses.

Hancock described it as "a triumph for all those who believe in science, a triumph for ingenuity and a triumph for humanity."

His colleague, Alok Sharma, Secretary of Stae for Business, meanwhile said: "In years to come, we will remember this moment as the day the UK led humanity's charge against this disease."

His tweet was however rebuked by the German ambassador to the UK, Andreas Michaelis, who emphasised that "this is not a national thing".

"Why is it so difficult to recognise this important step forward as a great international effort and success. I really don't think this is a national story. In spite if the German company BioNTech having made a crucial contribution this is European and transatlantic," he added.

Veronique Trillet-Lenoir, a French MEP who chairs on the European parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, also deplored "vaccine nationalism".

"We have faith in the EMA [European Medicines Agency]'s approval process, which is based on the highest standards. This vaccine is first and foremost an international and European achievement," she said.

The EMA is currently reviewing the application for authorisation of two vaccine candidates: Pfizer/BioNTech's and Moderna's. It is also reviewing trial data from the AstraZeneca/Oxford University and Janssen/Cilag International vaccines.