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More Vaccine Mandates Might Come As Result of Full COVID-19 Vaccine Approval

A man gets a COVID-19 vaccine.
Matt Slocum
On Monday the Food and Drug Administration gave the Pfizer vaccine full approval.

Big policy changes regarding the COVID-19 vaccine might be right around the corner. The Pfizer-BioNTech immunization was given full approval by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday.

In the past, some employers have felt it was inappropriate or unwise to demand that workers get the vaccine, which was available only through an emergency use authorization. That’s not an issue anymore, so more bosses might make vaccination a condition of employment.

Duquesne University epidemiologist David Dausey said that mandates will likely be more common among industries that need an in-person workforce. But even companies with remote staff might start to require it due to medical costs associated with COVID-19 treatment.

“The long hospital stay that might be required, or the fact that you might need the use of a mechanical ventilator,” said Dausey. “I wouldn't put it out of the question that … insurance companies push some of that burden of those additional costs onto individuals if they won’t get vaccinated.”

Also, workplace that mandate that unvaccinated staff get regularly tested could begin shifting those costs to employees.

Currently, Duquesne requiresstudents to be vaccinated. Faculty and staff are permitted to be unvaccinated. But Dausey, the university’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, said that policy could change.

Another reason an employer might want a healthy workforce is to protect productivity.

“If there is a huge COVID surge, you don’t want half the workers in your meat-packing facility to be sick,” said the Rand Corporation’s Dr. Courtney Gidengil, a physician and researcher specializing in health care quality measurement.

While this administrative change might mean big things for public policy, it has little impact on the delivery of care with the vaccine. The FDA's full approval applies to people 16 and older, though the Pfizer vaccine has had emergency authorization for people as young as 12 since May.

Full approval could open the door to “off-label" use, however, when an FDA-approved medication is used for an unapproved treatment or group, such as prescribing the Covid vaccine to younger kids — a practice that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages.

Gidengil said a big question is whether the FDA’s full approval will encourage people to seek this medical care. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31% “of unvaccinated adults who say they would be more likely to get the vaccine if the FDA granted full approval.”

“That’s been a question on the minds of some,” said Gidengil. “Time will tell.”

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.