SAN ANTONIO – With one of the three COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States having received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, local officials are hoping to see some of the remaining vaccine hesitancy in the community melt away.
The FDA announced its decision Monday to approve the two-dose Pfizer vaccine for people 16 years and older. It had already been available under an Emergency Use Authorization since Dec. 11.
The vaccine is still available under an EUA for children ages 12 to 15 and some immunocompromised people.
“Metro Health hopes the FDA’s approval will encourage individuals to take the time to get vaccinated today, especially those who have been waiting for the final approval by our federal agencies,” San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director Claude Jacob said in a news release reacting to the FDA’s decision “San Antonio and Bexar County residents can feel confident in the FDA’s rigorous approval process.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg posted on social media, “If that’s what you’ve been waiting for, your wait is officially over.”
Local first dose vaccination numbers have been trending upwards since the beginning of July, but they remain far lower than the surges of vaccinations in the earlier days of the vaccine rollouts.
Metro Health’s latest vaccination statistics show 65.9% of eligible Bexar County residents have been fully vaccinated while 81.8% have received at least one dose.
Dr. Jan Patterson, an infectious disease specialist at UT Health San Antonio, hopes the vaccine’s full approval will build confidence in it.
“It would be great if we saw the vaccine rates increase even more. Certainly with this crisis that we’re having in our health care system now and in our hospitals, you know, running out of beds, running out of hospital staff, running out of meds to treat severe infection, it would be great if more people could get vaccinated,” Patterson said.
Though she said the approval could lead to a bump in the vaccination rates, Patterson does not expect a big spike.
“I think there were a lot of people that were saying, ‘Oh, I’ll wait till it’s approved,’ but maybe that wasn’t all that was behind their hesitancy,” she said. “But I’m hopeful that this step can encourage people, and that we’ll continue to see more and more people vaccinated.”
KSAT didn’t find anyone Monday at a vaccination clinic at Palo Alto College whose visit had been prompted by the new approval. But Christine Butler, who was there for her second dose, did say it made her feel better.
Whether the vaccine’s full approval prompts more vaccinations remains to be seen, but it has already prompted the Pentagon to mandate the vaccine for military members. The approval means San Antonio ISD’s vaccine mandate for staff also appears to be on solid legal ground now, too.
And while The Texas Tribune reports that the approval appears to crack open the door for other governmental organizations to mandate vaccines for their employees, neither the City of San Antonio or Bexar County governments appear to be taking that step yet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to meet Aug. 30 to determine how the approval will affect its recommendations for the vaccine.