Full approval for Pfizer’s shot
On Monday morning, the F.D.A. granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and up.
It is the first vaccine to move beyond emergency-use status in the U.S., and officials hope it will persuade some of the 85 million unvaccinated Americans who are eligible for shots but have not received them.
Data from 44,000 clinical trial participants in the United States, the European Union, Turkey, South Africa and South America showed the vaccine was 91 percent effective in preventing infection. So far, more than 92 million Americans — 54 percent of those fully inoculated — have gotten Pfizer shots; most of the rest received Moderna’s vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will continue to be authorized for emergency use for children ages 12 to 15 while Pfizer collects the data required for full approval. Authorizing the vaccine for children younger than 12 could be at least several months away.
The decision is expected to accelerate the pace of vaccine mandates from government agencies, universities, corporations and other organizations.
The Pentagon said on Monday that it would require all active-duty military personnel to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. There are over a million active-duty service members; 64 percent are fully vaccinated.
New York City announced that it would require all 148,000 Department of Education employees to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27.
New Jersey announced an even broader education vaccine rule, covering employees of private and charter schools.
President Biden, who has required all federal employees and on-site contractors to be immunized or submit to regular testing, urged corporate, state and local leaders to follow his lead. “Do what I did last month. Require your employees to get vaccinated or face strict requirements,” he said in a national address.
Some experts also hope that the approval may convince people who are on the fence. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that three of every 10 unvaccinated people said that they would be more likely to get a shot that had been fully approved.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the chief health officer for Mississippi, said the F.D.A. move would help “shake loose this false assertion that the vaccines are an ‘experimental’ thing.”
Others were less optimistic. “I think that is a vanishingly small number of people in real life,” said Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania and expert on vaccine hesitancy.
More important, she said, would be the effect of requirements: “Mandates simplify things for people.”
Fewer nurses, fewer beds
As the Delta variant pushes cases skyward, hospitals are filling up: About one in four I.C.U.s across the country has at least 95 percent of beds occupied, according to a Times analysis.
“It’s like a war zone. We are just barraged with patients and have nowhere to put them,” said Cyndy O’Brien, an emergency room nurse and patient care coordinator at Singing River, a small health system on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.
She arrived for work one day to find people sprawled out in their cars gasping for air as three ambulances with gravely ill patients idled in the parking lot.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
The problem is not just physical capacity. More than a year into the pandemic, hospitals are facing a critical nursing shortage, with potentially fatal consequences. Nearly 30 percent of Singing River’s 500 beds are empty because of 169 unfilled nursing positions.
Mississippi, which has the most new cases per capita in the U.S., has 2,000 fewer registered nurses than it did at the beginning of the year, according to the state’s hospital association.
Across the country, more than 1,200 nurses died from the virus during the pandemic. Now, the United States is enduring a fourth wave of infections, many nurses are angry, depleted and traumatized.
Thousands have taken early retirement, left the profession or opted for less stressful nursing jobs at schools, summer camps and private doctor’s offices.
“We’re exhausted, both physically and emotionally,” O’Brien said, choking back tears.
What else we’re following
What you’re doing
Last year, my son was safely tucked in at home learning online. This year he’ll be in the classroom five days a week, even though cases are rising in our community. He’s vaccinated and good about wearing the mask, but still we worry. And we’re angry that schools aren’t doing more to keep kids safe. Our strategy is to get through it and have as much fun as possible outside of school. It’s going to be stressful. — Chrissy Gilbert, 50, Columbus, Ohio
On Friday, for the next edition of “Our Changing Lives,” we plan to focus on the school year. We’d love to hear from you. We may feature your response in an upcoming newsletter.