The FDA Fully Approves The Pfizer Covid Vaccine, Opening the Door to More Vaccine Requirements

On August 23, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval for the first Covid-19 vaccine, known as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The two-dose vaccine, which up until that date was under Emergency Use Authorization, has been formally approved for use in people ages 16 and older; now that it has been fully approved, President Biden is urging unvaccinated Americans to get the shots. And not only will this new status hopefully entice more people to get the vaccine, but it will also empower businesses and universities to require people to be vaccinated. 2 shot viles with needles next to themThe Pfizer vaccine was first granted Emergency Use Authorization in December 2020, and so far almost 170 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, and about 30 million have gotten at least one of the two doses. The FDA has been continuing its research on the vaccine, and has been able to study its efficacy in the real world, concluding that it is safe and 91% effective. The vaccine will be marketed under the name Comirnaty, and remains under Emergency Use Authorization for people between 12 and 16 years old.

Now, with the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated skyrocketing, President Biden is hoping to convince people who have been hesitant to get the vaccine that it is time to roll up their sleeves: “If you’re one of the millions of Americans who said that they will not get the shot until it has full and final approval of the FDA: It has now happened,” he said. “The moment you’ve been waiting for is here.”

Requirements Among Businesses

President Biden has called the approval “a key milestone in our nation’s fight against Covid.” He then urged business owners and others in leadership positions to require the vaccine.

man's hand holding a phone with a vaccination code on the screen
Federal and private employers, including NY and NJ schools, are requiring employees to get vaccinated and show proof of vaccination, or face termination.

“I’m calling on more companies in the private sector to step up with vaccine requirements that will reach millions more people,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “If you’re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, a state or local leader, who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that — require it. It only makes sense to require a vaccine to stop the spread of Covid-19.”

As of now, the federal government and some private employers are requiring workers to show proof of vaccination. In addition, on Monday, August 23, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all public school employees will be required to have at least their first shot by September 27. New Jersey’s governor Phil Murphy followed suit and also announced on Monday that vaccination for all teachers and other staff will be required by October 17. These states are currently joining 4 other states that have already done the same: Washington, California, Connecticut and Oregon.

The Pentagon is also planning to make the vaccine mandatory for the U.S. military. The Defense Department “is prepared to issue updated guidance, requiring all service members to be vaccinated,” Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby confirmed in a press briefing. “A timeline for vaccination completion will be provided in the coming days.”

So far businesses like Google, Netflix, Facebook, The Washington Post, and Morgan Stanley are requiring vaccines for their employees. And if you want to travel, get ready to show your card: Carnival Cruise Line has tightened its vaccine mandate, requiring all passengers to be vaccinated, except children under 12 and adults with medical conditions, and many are speculating that other forms of travel might require proof of vaccination in the future.

Legalities Concerning The Requirements

Legal challenges are expected, and there are already some lawsuits being filed across the country. Employees of some businesses and even hospitals that are requiring employees to get vaccinated or be terminated, such as Houston’s Methodist Hospital, where 150 nurses were let go or resigned for refusing to get the vaccine, are the subject of some of the lawsuits. So far employees have been unsuccessful in challenging the vaccine requirements: courts are leaning towards the 1905 Supreme Court case Jacobson V. Massachusetts, in which the court decreed that states can require the smallpox vaccine. Businesses, though, might have to allow exemptions for vaccine requirements for religious beliefs and medical conditions.

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