As Americans face a daunting surge of Covid-19 hospitalizations – with rates for children and adults under 50 hitting their highest levels yet – the US Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for people 16 and older.
The approval could help allay concerns for those who are vaccine hesitant, as all three vaccines available in the US have so far been distributed under emergency use authorization.
It could also help businesses, schools and states enforce vaccine mandates, experts have said. Such mandates could help quell the ever-growing number of cases, especially in states that are experiencing a lack of available ICU beds.
“It’s an important step because it makes mandates easier, and it will address concerns of some of the people who have been on the fence about getting vaccinated,” former CDC director Tom Frieden told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.
Some universities and employers have issued mandates, including hospital systems, and the FDA approval is already accelerating that trend. On Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all education department staff in public schools across the city must be vaccinated. That makes New York the largest school system in the country to have such a mandate.
The US military also will now require all service members to be vaccinated, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Monday.
And in New Jersey, all state employees must be fully vaccinated by October 18 or be subject to regular testing, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.
The number of vaccine doses administered daily has mostly increased over the past week – with three days surpassing a million reported doses, according to data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the daily average of new reported cases is around 147,000, and experts have warned it could surpass 200,000 on the current trajectory.
Vaccination is key to controlling the virus
About 171 million Americans, 51.5% of the population, were fully vaccinated as of Monday, CDC data show, while 60.8% have received at least one dose. A total of 25 states have fully vaccinated more than half of their residents, with Michigan the latest state to do so, according to CDC data.
Some health experts, such as Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, say the US needs to have at least 80% of its population vaccinated to get the virus under control.
“If we’re going to halt this virus transmission, we’re going to have to get to 80-85%,” Hotez told CNN’s Jake Tapper Monday. And while the FDA approval may help convince a few people to get vaccinated, he said, mandates will be more helpful in reaching the goal.
“I think the bigger impact, as was mentioned, is going to be around mandates, employer mandates, federal mandates, from the military,” Hotez said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Monday that if the majority of the population gets vaccinated, the US could regain control of the virus by the spring of 2022.
Fauci said he misspoke when he told NPR earlier on Monday that it would be the fall of 2022.
“If we can get through this winter and get really the majority – overwhelming majority – of the 90 million people who have not been vaccinated, vaccinated, I hope we can start to get some good control in the spring of 2022,” Fauci told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Fauci said that includes vaccinating people who have contracted and recovered from Covid-19, who could stand to gain “an enormous increase in the degree of protection,” from the vaccine.