Author: Megan Redshaw       Published: 8/23/2021       CHD

The FDA today granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine for people 16 years and older.

Critics said it was concerning that full approval was based on only six months’ worth of data — despite clinical trials designed for two years — and that there was no public discussion of the data.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine for people 16 years and older — without allowing public discussion or holding a formal advisory committee meeting to discuss data.

This is the first COVID vaccine approved by the FDA, and is expected to open the door to more vaccine mandates by employers and universities.

“For businesses and universities that have been thinking about putting vaccine requirements in place in order to create safer spaces for people to work and learn, I think this move from the FDA, when it comes, will actually help them to move forward with those kinds of plans,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Sunday told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner in a press release issued Monday.

“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 this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product.”

Woodcock said she believes FDA approval will instill additional confidence in people to get vaccinated.

According to The Washington Post, Pfizer’s vaccine approval was the fastest in the agency’s history, coming less than four months after Pfizer/BioNTech filed for licensing on May 7.

“It’s been remarkably fast,” said Holly Fernandez Lynch, a bioethics expert and lawyer at the University of Pennsylvania, who said careful handling of the approval was crucial to potentially persuading the “vaccine hesitant” to receive the licensed product.

The approval of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine was based on its clinical trial of 44,000 people — half of whom got the shots, the company said. The median six-month follow-up period for safety and efficacy began after participants received their second dose, Pfizer said.

“Based on the longer-term follow-up data we submitted, today’s approval for those aged 16 and over affirms the efficacy and safety profile of our vaccine at a time when it is urgently needed,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. “I am hopeful this approval will help increase confidence in our vaccine.”

The company plans to follow the 44,000 enrollees for a total of 24 months, from the start of the trial. In order to qualify for FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) last December, Pfizer followed trial participants for a median of only two months after participants received their second dose.

Pfizer’s COVID vaccine received EUA on Dec. 11, 2020, for use in individuals 16 years and older. On May 10, the authorization was expanded to include 12- through 15-year-olds.

According to the FDA, EUAs can be used by the agency during public health emergencies to provide access to medical products that may be effective in preventing, diagnosing or treating a disease, provided the FDA determines that the known and potential benefits of a product, when used to prevent, diagnose or treat the disease, outweigh the known and potential risks of the product.

Pfizer’s vaccine will remain under EUA for 12- through 15-year-olds, and for a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

However, full approval gives doctors flexibility in using vaccinations for “off-label use,” which is not permitted for EUA products. This would allow doctors to give patients booster shots before the FDA clears them.

Data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that between Dec. 14, 2020 and Aug. 13, 2021, a total of 326,535 adverse events had been reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) attributed to Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, including 9,027 deaths and 56,607 serious injuries.