The Food and Drug Administration has formally approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. The widely anticipated decision replaces the emergency use authorization granted by the agency last December.
This is the first COVID-19 vaccine to be subject to a full review by the U.S. regulator and to get an approval that puts the vaccine on par with other marketed vaccines.
The full approval could make it easier for employers, the military and universities to mandate vaccination and may reassure some people who are hesitant about the vaccine.
"While this and other vaccines have met the FDA's rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product," acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom was quick to issue supportive words Monday morning in a statement emailed to reporters, saying he encourages "all Californians to trust the science and protect themselves and their community by getting vaccinated."
Tomás Aragón, California's public health officer, said the agency’s official approval of the vaccine “underscores the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine and comes at a critical juncture as many of our communities are grappling with increasing cases fueled by the faster spreading Delta variant.”
“For weeks we have watched cases go up at an alarming pace among individuals who are not vaccinated while the vaccinated are largely protected, especially against severe and long-term illness,” he said in a statement. “We know the vaccines work. We know vaccines are safe. We know they save lives. If you are not vaccinated, let this be the milestone that gets you there. Get vaccinated to protect yourself and help put an end to this deadly pandemic.”
Approval could lead to more vaccinations
A June poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31% of unvaccinated people said they would be more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine once one receives full approval from the FDA.
"While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated," Woodcock said. "Today's milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S."
The FDA's full approval applies to people 16 and older. Those between ages 12 and 15 can still receive the vaccine under the existing emergency use authorization.
There is no timeline for children under 12
That authorization does not extend to children under the age of 12. FDA officials have acknowledged the interest in vaccination for children in that age group, but were unable Monday to provide a timeline for a decision on use of the vaccine for those under 12.
"Currently there are still trials ongoing here," Dr. Peter Marks, director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told reporters. "The agency has to wait for the companies to submit. ... Obviously, we will move swiftly, but first the trials have to be finished ... and the data need to be submitted to us."
The FDA acted Monday without convening a customary public meeting of expert advisers to vet information about the vaccine and make recommendations to the regulator.
As of Sunday, 73% of adults have had at least one dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Pfizer's vaccine is most commonly administered, accounting for about 56% of the doses administered overall, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine remains under the FDA's review, but its approval is expected to follow in the near future.
KQED's Kevin Stark contributed to this report.
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