What FDA announcement might mean for unvaccinated Virginians

Posted at 2:38 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-23 19:09:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years old and older on Monday. The Pfizer vaccine was the first to gain full FDA approval and Virginia health leaders hope it is another step in the process to convince more people to get vaccinated at the delta variant continues to spread.

Prior to its full approval, local and state health officials said among the unvaccinated were people who said they were waiting for that final step before getting the vaccine. A Kaiser Family Foundation from June found three in 10 people who hadn't gotten the shot were waiting on full approval. Richmond and Henrico Health's Deputy Director Dr. Melissa Viray said she hoped this is one more barrier down.

"This vaccine has been evaluated and approved for licensure by the FDA and I'm hoping that individuals will take that to mean -- if you are hesitant before, because of this -- this is the time to get it," Dr. Viray said. "You should be reassured that it's been fully evaluated and you can go ahead and get that vaccine."

The full approval for the vaccine, which will now be marketed under the name "Comirnaty," applies to people 16 and older. The vaccine is still available for kids aged 12 through 15 under emergency use authorization.

Full approval also opens the door for more government departments and businesses to issue vaccine mandates. For example, the Pentagon earlier this month said it would require all military members to get vaccinated by Sept. 15, though Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin said he would issue an order making the shots mandatory "immediately upon licensure" by the FDA.

In remarks on Monday, President Biden said he hoped full approval would result in more local governments and private sector businesses adopting their own vaccine mandates, noting that it's been commonplace in the past to adopt vaccine mandates for diseases like polio and mumps.

"It only makes sense to require a vaccine that prevents the spread of COVID-19," Biden said.

"I think employers are looking to get back into business, they'd like to bring their populations back into the office," Margaret Riley, a University of Virginia law professor, said.

However, Richmond attorney Karen Michael adds that employers were using mandates before the FDA approval on Monday.

She encouraged businesses who used mandates to ensure that they offer accommodations like medical or religious exemptions or alternatives like weekly testing.

"Figure out what is needed in their own business and how they're going to set forth their requirements for their own employees and making sure that employees stay safe," Michael said.

Two other COVID-19 vaccines — the two-dose Moderna vaccine and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot — are still widely available in the U.S. under emergency use authorization.

The full approval of the Pfizer vaccine comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by the more contagious delta variant. Health experts say that the current spike is driven by those who remain unvaccinated.

All three COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and highly effective in fighting severe and deadly cases of the virus. Earlier this month, the CDC reported that 99.99% of fully vaccinated people had avoided a severe or deadly COVID-19 infection.

The Associated Press and Scripps National Team contributed to this report.