Exclusive: FDA chief Hahn says 20 million Americans could be vaccinated this year

FILE PHOTO: FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn testifies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 23, 2020. Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expects to move quickly after a Dec. 10 review of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and 20 million Americans could be vaccinated this year, its commissioner said on Friday.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn declined to give a specific timeline of how long approval of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech would take but said that he hoped there would be a decision by the regulator in December.

As soon as the FDA approves a vaccine, "I will be first in line and I will encourage my family to take this vaccine," Hahn told Reuters in an interview.

He also said that he had a "robust discussion" at a White House meeting with Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to discuss the timing of a vaccine.

Many federal officials are expecting a vaccine approval within days of the Dec. 10 meeting, though one FDA official recently said an approval decision could take weeks.

Hahn said he had not spoken to President-Elect Joe Biden.

"They have not been in touch with me," Hahn said, saying that discussions about vaccine distribution were being handled by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Hahn said he has not made any plans about his next job after the presidential transition.

A speedy vaccine approval could be a political win for the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump, which has been pushing for effective treatments to help restore a sense of normality to daily life and a hard-hit U.S. economy.

Its Operation Warp Speed program has struck deals with several drugmakers in an effort to help speed up the search for effective treatments to fight the global pandemic.

Britain leapt ahead of the United States this week in approving Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, intensifying scrutiny on U.S. regulators as they consider whether to grant emergency use in the country that leads the world in coronavirus infections.

Biden has selected two former Obama administration officials to senior roles to help fight COVID-19, including the appointment of Jeff Zients as White House coronavirus coordinator, Politico reported on Thursday.

Dealing with the virus that has killed more than 276,000 Americans as well as the economic fallout from the crisis is one of Biden's top priorities once he takes office on Jan. 20.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, Caroline Humer, Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason; Editing by Nick Zieminski and David Clarke)

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