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WASHINGTON — A major milestone in federal vaccination approval spurred President Biden to again make the case for hesitant Americans to get inoculated against COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration gave its long-anticipated approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. Up until now, the more than 300 million Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses were administered under what’s known as an emergency use authorization. Approximately half of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the New York Times, and the FDA’s approval may push states to implement more stringent vaccination and masking requirements in schools, workplaces and public spaces.
A YahooNews/YouGov poll found that a majority — 51 percent — of Americans distrusted the various coronavirus vaccines due to the lack of full FDA approval. Approximately 93 million eligible Americans have not received even a single dose of a vaccine.
“If you’re one of the millions of Americans who said they will not get the shot until it has full and final approval of the FDA, it has now happened. The moment you’ve been waiting for is here,” Biden said.
Pfizer, which applied for full approval in May, is the first of the three available U.S. COVID vaccines to receive the FDA’s complete certification. Moderna submitted its application in June, and Johnson & Johnson announced it will begin the application process later in 2021.
Over the past month, Biden has issued guidance on coronavirus restrictions across the federal government and beyond. Federal workers and contractors are required to attest to their vaccination status or adhere to strict masking and test protocols in addition to work travel bans. He also directed that all nursing home staff be vaccinated, threatening to withhold Medicare and Medicaid funding to facilities that refuse to comply. And following the FDA’s Monday announcement, the Pentagon mandated that all 1.3 million active-duty service members must be vaccinated.
Yet there’s a limit to Biden’s authority, leaving private companies open to do as they please on vaccinations. He called for companies in the private sector to follow his lead and “do what I did last month: Require your employees to get vaccines.”
Individual state guidance has largely broken down among partisan lines. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is now requiring public school teachers to provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 27 and has implemented vaccine requirements for most public spaces, including gyms, restaurants and bars. Los Angeles County has administered similar crackdowns amid rising rates of cases as the Delta variant continues to spread. While the rate of breakthrough infections remains low, regions of the country, particularly in the South, have experienced higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death.
Some Republican governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott of Texas, have banned schools from implementing mitigation efforts like masking or testing requirements, but some school districts are fighting back with the support of local court rulings. While discouraging such mitigation efforts publicly, Abbott said his own vaccination allowed him to survive his bout with COVID.
Last week, Abbott, who received a third shot, revealed he had tested positive and was quarantined at home.
Biden has called the current surge of cases the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” saying that deaths from these cases are preventable.
“People are dying, and will die, who won’t have to,” he said.
Despite struggles to increase the percentage of Americans who are vaccinated, Biden seemed encouraged with the country’s overall progress.
“This is critical progress. But we need to move faster,” he said.
At the conclusion of his speech, Biden did not take questions or address the situation in Afghanistan.
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