RICHMOND, Va. -- On Friday, Pfizer became the first COVID-19 vaccine producer to request full FDA approval. Virginia's Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula anticipated that approval would have several implications, including the possibility of more vaccination mandates across the country.
The Pfizer vaccine, along with Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, were currently operating under Emergency Use Authorization due to the pandemic.
"This is just the final formal step that Pfizer should take," said Dr. Melissa Viray, Deputy Director for the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. "We want this vaccine to be around, even when there isn't a public health emergency."
Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, said while it takes a full six months of data for any vaccine or drug to be considered for full FDA licensure, there was still a tremendous amount of data that was collected before the Emergency Use Authorization was granted by the FDA. But Avula hoped full approval could help reassure those who were still hesitant.
"I think there will be a small number of people who maybe feel more comfortable getting the vaccine now," said Dr. Avula.
But Dr. Avula said full FDA approval of the shot, which he anticipated would happen in the next few months, could have further implications.
"One is that Pfizer can kind of now broadly market. They can kind of go full private sector and doctor's offices can order directly from Pfizer, for example. Whereas, you know, what's been happening over the course of this emergency is that all of the vaccine has flowed through the government," said Dr. Avula.
The other implication, Dr. Avula said, was possible governmental mandating of the vaccine.
"When we've tackled this question over the last few months, it wasn't even a consideration because the government couldn't mandate a vaccine that was under EUA, Emergency Use Authorization. Now that we, you know, may be seeing this move to full licensure in a few months -- that does open up the possibility," said Dr. Avula.
However, Dr. Avula emphasized that there was no governmental vaccine mandate in the picture in Virginia, as Governor Northam had made it clear he wanted the Commonwealth to focus on incentivizing Virginians to get the vaccine and focusing on its positives.
"But there are a lot of entities that we don't have control over that may choose to require vaccination now," said Dr. Avula.
Dr. Avula anticipated full approval may encourage other private entities like healthcare systems, employers, and colleges to begin requiring the COVID vaccine. In fact, he said more than 100 colleges had already decided to do so, including some in Virginia.
"This is no different than, whether it be Meningitis or Rubella or the like, that upon entry, all students in the Commonwealth of Virginia are required to provide vaccination records," said Keith Moore, Vice President for Campus Life at Virginia Wesleyan University in Norfolk.
Last week, the university announced they would require students and staff to get the COVID vaccine. He said those who didn't comply faced the possibility of being withdrawn from the school (with provisions for people with religious or medical exemptions). But Moore said so far, there's been very little resistance.
"After a very difficult year, we know that our faculty and staff, and also the students, would love to jump into the fall with this in the rearview mirror as best we can," said Moore. "We know it's not going to go away. But we know that if we can control a portion of it, to assure that we have that opportunity to have that full-on face-to-face instruction, that we need to do our part."
Mary Baldwin University in Staunton sent a statement to CBS 6 confirming they would also require COVID vaccinations in the fall with an opportunity for individuals to apply for a medical or religious exemption if needed.
VCU Health and Bon Secours sent statements indicating that, as of now, they are highly encouraging associates to get the vaccine.
VCU Health's statement read:
We are encouraged that Pfizer is seeking full FDA approval for their COVID-19 vaccine. Throughout the pandemic our team has reviewed the latest information available on the national and state level to make informed decisions for VCU Health. Based on risks and consequences of COVID-19 and the protective effects of vaccination, we strongly encourage our teammates, patients and the citizens of the Commonwealth to choose this option, and we make it easy to do. We’ll await the FDA’s decision with interest.