Vaccine mandates likely after full FDA approval, says health expert

Nurses prepare a flu shot vaccine at a clinic in Boston.
Nurses prepare a flu shot vaccine at a clinic in Boston. | Reuters/Jonathan Grant and Jirka Taylor

As the Biden administration struggles to convince unvaccinated Americans to voluntarily take widely available COVID-19 vaccines in the face of rising infections and hospitalizations, one health expert believes vaccines could likely become mandated by businesses and government agencies once they receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 56% of the U.S. population has received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, 48.7% of American adults have been fully vaccinated.

Andy Slavitt, who stepped down last month as President Joe Biden’s COVID response coordinator, told NBC News this week that he believes a wave of local vaccine mandates is likely to come once one or more of the three vaccines authorized by the FDA for emergency use get full approval from the agency.

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“I think once the vaccines go through full FDA approval, everything should be on the table, and I think that everything will be on the table at the level of municipalities, states, employers, venues, government agencies,” Slavitt, who served as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Obama administration, was quoted as saying. 

Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna, submitted applications for full approval of their vaccines to the FDA on May 7, 2021, and June 1, 2021, respectively. 

While the FDA has not indicated when full approval of the mRNA vaccines might happen, it is expected that the submissions for full approval will get what is known as “priority review," which takes about six months.

Using this timeline, the FDA could decide on full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by January 2022 and February 2022 for the Moderna vaccine, Healthline noted.

Once the vaccines are fully approved by the FDA, Slavitt said he believes some federal agencies should begin requiring vaccinations for their employees. This includes military members, healthcare workers at Veterans Affairs hospitals and nursing homes and other federal workers in close contact with the public.

“I think every government agency ought to rethink what's appropriate,” Slavitt told NBC News. “There are a number of people in surveys, by the way, who say precisely these words, ‘I'm not going to take it, unless it's required.’”

In August 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said he didn’t foresee a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the United States. 

“I don't think you'll ever see a mandating of vaccine, particularly for the general public,” Fauci said during a townhall, CNN reported.

He argued that everyone had the right to refuse the vaccine.

“If someone refuses the vaccine in the general public, then there's nothing you can do about that. You cannot force someone to take a vaccine," he said.

Almost a year later, however, Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union" last week that it would be a good idea to have vaccine mandates at the local level.

“I have been of this opinion, and I remain of that opinion that I do believe at the local level, there should be more mandates. There really should be,” Fauci said.

“We’re talking about life-and-death situations. We’ve lost 600,000 Americans already, and we’re still losing more people. There have been 4 million deaths worldwide. This is serious business. So I am in favor of that.”

Across the U.S., hundreds of colleges have mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for the upcoming school year, prompting legal challenges by those opposed to getting the experimental vaccine. 

A federal judge sided with Indiana University's vaccination requirement in an opinion issued early Monday morning after eight students challenged the school's requirement that students and employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine before the start of the fall semester.

The university will recognize certain medical and religious exemptions to its requirement. But officials say unvaccinated students will need to continue following coronavirus mitigation strategies as they ease them for the fully vaccinated.

In June, a judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit filed by former Houston Methodist Hospital staff members who were let go for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

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