Matt Hancock has said Brexit has helped the UK become the first country in the world to have a clinically authorised vaccine.
The health secretary said the “fantastic” news about the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine being approved is due in part to Britain being able to use a “world class UK regulator”, rather than “go at the pace of the Europeans”.
His claim was later rejected by the vaccine regulator, however.
Hancock had told Times Radio: “The reason we’ve been able to move this fast, and the UK is the first country in the world to have a clinically authorised vaccine... is twofold.
“Firstly, because the MRHA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] has done a great job of working with the company to look at that data as it’s come through and do things in parallel, rather than one after the other as they normally would, that’s the first reason.
Watch: 800,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are ‘ready to go’
“The second reason is because, whilst until earlier this year we were in the European Medicines Agency [EMA], because of Brexit we’ve been able to make a decision to do this based on the UK regulator, a world-class regulator, and not go at the pace of the Europeans, who are moving a little bit more slowly.
“We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they’re done because of Brexit.”
However, June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, later said at a Downing Street briefing: “We have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law which exist until 1 January.”
Hancock, meanwhile, repeated past government warnings that restrictions on people’s freedom in England will have to remain in place for the “forthcoming few months”.
On the same day the new three-tier system of local restrictions came into force after the national lockdown ended, Hancock said in a separate interview on Wednesday that it is important to adhere to the rules until a vaccine becomes generally available.
“The regulations that we passed last night with a substantial majority in the House of Commons, they will be in place for forthcoming few months,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But you can see now, with confidence, that from the spring onwards things are getting better.
“Between now and then we have to got to hold our nerve, we have got to hold our resolve. We can see the dawn in the distance but we have got to get through to morning.”
Watch: How England's new three-tier COVID system will work