Will FDA approval bring a wave of vaccine mandates?
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The Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Monday for Americans aged 16 and older. It’s the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive full clearance from the agency: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have so far been administered under emergency use authorizations.
It may seem like a technical regulatory thing, but public health experts say it’s a really big deal — especially for the growing number of employers considering a vaccine mandate.
Federal courts and the Department of Justice had already told employers that, legally they did not have to wait for full FDA clearance to impose a vaccine mandate. Why, then, is today’s announcement a big deal?
“I think there’s some chief executive officers who have really lost patience with unvaccinated employees and will instantly point to this news as a basis for a mandate,” said Bob Nichols, a lawyer with the Houston-based firm Bracewell. He’s been advising major companies on their vaccine policies.
Nichols expects a wave of new employer mandates and, now that the somewhat scary phrase “emergency use” is gone, “more employees are likely to throw in the towel and agree to vaccination,” he said.
Still, a mandate isn’t a no-brainer. One reason companies like Walmart have stopped short of requiring a vaccine for everyone is the shortage of workers.
CEOs have to ask themselves some tough questions, said Kosali Simon, a health economist at Indiana University.
“Is there going to be a lot of turnover or needing to go hire new workers to fill jobs if there are many that don’t comply with the vaccine mandate?” she said.
Companies may turn to softer penalties, like a monthly surcharge on health insurance.
“Employers are looking at that middle step, which is, you have the potential to cost us more in health insurance costs because of your unvaccinated status,” said Wade Symons, a partner with the HR consulting firm Mercer.
Employers may get an assist from the vaccine makers themselves. Full FDA approval means they can start running TV ads for its vaccine, which in Pfizer’s case already has a brand name: Comirnaty.
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