Aug 24, 2021
Within hours of FDA’s Aug. 23, 2021, approval of the biological license application for Pfizer BioNTech Cominarty, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed all active duty members of the military would soon be required to take COVID-19 vaccinations. Both the approval and the Department of Defense action were expected.
The moves actually trailed decisions by other government agencies and public sector organization to mandate vaccinations. The Chronicle of Higher Education keeps an updated list of state universities and community college systems that began issuing vaccine mandates this spring. K-12 school systems are increasingly following this lead, with public school teachers and staff in California, Oregon, New Jersey and New York City recently being ordered to show proof of vaccination or face reassignment or dismissal.
The FDA decision followed more than eight months of Cominarty administration in the United States and around the world. Full approval replaces an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer BioNTech product, and U.S. approval for Moderna’s competing COVID-19 vaccine, Spikevax, could come during September.
The FDA and the CDC will continue tracking the safety and efficacy of Cominarty, as explained in the agency’s press release. Assurances from federal regulators that the vaccine is effective and not harmful for the overwhelming majority of patients who are older than 16 years of age are giving elected officials and government executives confidence to mandate use by public sector employees.
President Joe Biden and a range of his department heads have issued vaccine mandates for Veterans Health Administration workers, Health and Human Services personnel who interact with patients, and staff in nursing homes that receive federal funds. Virginia and New Jersey state employees will also have to get vaccinated unless they can qualify for an exemption.
Most of the regulations for mandatory vaccination programs are still being written, For now, a FAQ created by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force offers useful guidance for U.S. government workplaces. The information can also inform policy making at the state and local level.