Health officials and business leaders in Connecticut say the full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will encourage more people who are on the fence about the shot to get one and will prompt more employers to mandate immunizations for their workers.
“Many individuals were waiting for the [full] approval, and I think they are going to be much more reassured,” said Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare. “There could be a small segment of individuals who are finding reasons not to get the vaccine. I’m hoping they are closer to making a decision.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday gave full approval to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for those 16 and older. The shot was previously made available under an emergency use authorization.
The adoption comes as Connecticut and other states have seen an increase in cases and hospitalizations driven by the highly contagious delta variant. The daily positivity rate reached 3.5% Monday, and Connecticut recorded an additional 23 hospitalizations, bringing the total to 369.
On Thursday, the state reported another 23 COVID deaths, more than double the previous week.
Gov. Ned Lamont has already mandated that state employees, K-12 teachers and staff, early childhood workers and employees at long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living centers, be vaccinated.
Business leaders say the full authorization of the Pfizer vaccine will spur more private companies to impose immunization requirements for staff.
Bloomfield-based health insurer Cigna had already announced a mandate for its 70,000-plus workforce, and more businesses are expected to follow.
“We’re already hearing that internal conversations are stirring up inside employers about, ‘OK, now should we really consider mandating the vaccine, since it’s fully approved by the FDA?’ We don’t have that issue anymore,” said Chris DiPentima, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
“When it was out there for emergency use authorization only, employers knew they could mandate the vaccine without being liable, but there was still hesitancy. They really wanted to use the encouragement approach first,” he said. “But that has, I think, run its course. Employers have been thinking for the past couple weeks – what more can I do to really increase vaccination rates so my workplace is safe, and we can continue to try to put this thing behind us?”
DiPentima predicted that a few employers would announce mandates this week, but he believes many more will follow in the coming months.
“I think you’ll have a few this week and next week, and then it’s just going to pick up momentum,” he said. “It’s going to snowball. We’re in another chapter of really addressing this health crisis.”
On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that every employee of the education department — including teachers, principals and all central office staff – must receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27, The New York Times reported. The same day, New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy required workers at public, private and parochial schools to be fully immunized by Oct. 18 or be tested once or twice a week.
The Pentagon also announced Monday that it will move ahead with mandating coronavirus shots for the country’s 1.4 million active-duty service members, the Times reported.
Reassurances for the resistant
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation in June found that three in 10 unvaccinated adults would be more likely to get inoculated if one of the vaccines authorized for emergency use were to receive full approval from the FDA. However, the study noted, the finding “likely suggests that FDA approval is a proxy for general safety concerns,” as two-thirds of adults either believe the shots already have full approval from the FDA or are unsure whether they have full approval or are authorized for emergency use.
“This should further reassure those who decided to wait for the full FDA approval before being vaccinated,” Deidre Gifford, Connecticut’s acting commissioner of public health, said. “While we have seen an increase of COVID cases across the country due to the delta variant, we are in a far different place now than we were a year ago thanks to this extraordinary tool.”
Federal officials echoed hopes that the authorization would increase trust among people who still are unsure about getting the shot.
“We know that for some people, FDA approval of a COVID-19 vaccine may give them the confidence to get vaccinated,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a press conference Monday. “By following our rigorous processes to evaluate this application, we hope those who have waited until now to make the choice to protect themselves – and thereby also protect their communities by reducing the spread of COVID-19 – will go and get vaccinated.”