How Full FDA Approval Could Spur Vaccination

A shorter version of this column has been published by Axios.

FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine can provide a big boost to vaccination efforts or a more modest one, depending on how it is handled when the approval comes down.

If FDA approval is left to be interpreted by the public through the countless channels of communication and misinformation people use to digest vaccine information, the effect of the decision will be much more modest or even muddled.

If on the other hand the President and federal health officials, state and local officials and public health experts use it as an opportunity to refresh the vaccine message, and employers jump on it as cover to move forward even more aggressively with passports and mandates, it could provide a big boost to vaccination efforts. It’s the next and probably the last big opportunity to sharpen and drive home a clear message that the COVID vaccines are safe and effective.

Three in ten of the unvaccinated ( 31%) report in our KFF Vaccine Monitor surveys that they would be more likely to get vaccinated if the FDA moved vaccines from emergency use to full approval. That’s because many unvaccinated people worry that the vaccines are experimental and fears about the safety of the vaccine are a major reason some groups are hesitant to get vaccinated. FDA approval offers an opportunity to aggressively address safety and efficacy concerns. Lack of FDA approval has allowed the idea that the vaccines are unsafe or ineffective to fester.

More than half of the unvaccinated are also unsure what the status of FDA approval is. Approval also offers an opportunity to clear up substantial public confusion.

Some employers who have imposed vaccine mandates, including hospitals, have faced blowback from some employees. Approval will provide justification and cover for them.

And most important of all, it can boost vaccinations by emboldening more local governments and employers to move ahead with passports and mandates.  Education Secretary Cardona underscored the point in a recent Washington Post interview: “I would favor the vaccine being required but … having the FDA do the final approval on it would make some who don’t feel comfortable feel comfortable.”

For government and the private sector to capitalize on FDA approval and make the most of it planning will have to begin now, so government, public health campaigns and employers are ready to go when the FDA decision is made.

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