Dr. Peter Marks, the F.D.A.’s top vaccine regulator, said that the Pfizer vaccine’s licensure followed a rigorous review of hundreds of thousands of pages of data and included inspections of the factories where the vaccine is produced. “The public and medical community can be confident that although we approved this vaccine expeditiously, it was fully in keeping with our existing high standards for vaccines in the U.S.,” he said.
Health experts and state officials welcomed the development. With the Delta variant driving up caseloads across the country, “full approval could not come at a more important time,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
“It is time for schools, businesses, health care facilities, and other indoor places where people congregate to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for admittance for all who are vaccine-eligible,” he added.
Some experts have estimated that full approval might convince just five percent of those who are unvaccinated to get shots. Even if that’s so, “that’s still a huge slice of people,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the chief health officer for Mississippi, a state that is particularly hard hit by the Delta variant. He said licensure will help “shake loose this false assertion that the vaccines are an ‘experimental’ thing.”
The F.D.A. is in the midst of a decision-making marathon related to coronavirus vaccines. The next major one looming for regulators is whether or not to authorize booster shots. The Biden administration said last week that pending the agency’s clearance, it will offer third shots to adults who got the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines eight months after their second injection, starting Sept. 20. Third shots are already authorized for some people with immune deficiencies, but the risk-benefit calculus is different for the general population.
Federal health officials said that both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines, which rely on similar technology, wane in potency over time. That trend, they said, is converging with the rise of the particularly dangerous Delta variant, making those who completed their vaccinations at the start of the year increasingly vulnerable to infection.
Some health experts have challenged the decision to recommend booster shots as premature, saying the data shows that the vaccines are holding up well against severe disease and hospitalization, including against the Delta variant. Boosters would only be warranted if the vaccines were failing to prevent hospitalizations with Covid-19, some of those experts have said.
Regulators are still reviewing Moderna’s application for full approval of its vaccine. That decision could take several weeks. Johnson & Johnson is expected to apply soon for full approval.
Source: The New York Times