Andreas Michaelis said British ministers were downplaying the importance of “European and transatlantic” work to get the vaccine ready for roll-out.
“I’m obviously absolutely thrilled with the news. I’m very proud that the UK is the first place in the world to have a clinically authorised vaccine ready to go,” he said.
Business secretary Alok Sharma also hailed the breakthrough – and claimed the UK had “led humanity’s charge” against the virus.
“The UK was the first country to sign a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech – now we will be the first to deploy their vaccine,” he said. “In years to come, we will remember this moment as the day the UK led humanity’s charge against this disease.”
Mr Hancock also claimed Brexit had helped “speed up” the vaccine approval process by freeing the UK from European regulatory processes.
“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,” he told Times Radio.
“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, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which approved the vaccine, contradicted Mr Hancock’s claims.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Dr Raine made clear that the MHRA were working under EU rules and procedures and were not able to go any faster because of Brexit.
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, of the Commission on Human Medicines advisory panel, said approval of the vaccine was a “historic moment”.
He told the government press conference: “We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic and I think this is a historic moment … This will help to save lives.”
Meanwhile Mr Johnson said the approval by the MHRA was “fantastic” news, tweeting: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”