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Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine receives FDA approval: Here's what it means

Posted at 4:47 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 11:21:59-04

The FDA approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine has health officials hoping it will encourage more Americans to roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine so the country can achieve heard immunity.

The vaccine will still be available under emergency use authorization for children and teens 12-15, as well as a third dose in certain immunocompromised people.

The FDA approval only applies to first and second doses on the vaccine for people 16 and older.

FDA approval for any drug means that data on the drug’s effects have been reviewed by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which rules on whether the drug's provided benefits "outweigh its known and potential risks for the intended population," according to the agency's website.

What about other vaccines?

Moderna's two-shot and Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccines remain under an emergency use authorization as of August 23.

The FDA drug approval process

The drug approval process takes place within a structured framework that includes the following, per the FDA's web site:

  • Analysis of the target condition and available treatments—FDA reviewers analyze the condition or illness for which the drug is intended and evaluate the current treatment landscape, which provide the context for weighing the drug’s risks and benefits. For example, a drug intended to treat patients with a life-threatening disease for which no other therapy exists may be considered to have benefits that outweigh the risks even if those risks would be considered unacceptable for a condition that is not life threatening.
  • Assessment of benefits and risks from clinical data—FDA reviewers evaluate clinical benefit and risk information submitted by the drug maker, taking into account any uncertainties that may result from imperfect or incomplete data. Generally, the agency expects that the drug maker will submit results from two well-designed clinical trials, to be sure that the findings from the first trial are not the result of chance or bias. In certain cases, especially if the disease is rare and multiple trials may not be feasible, convincing evidence from one clinical trial may be enough. Evidence that the drug will benefit the target population should outweigh any risks and uncertainties.
  • Strategies for managing risks—All drugs have risks. Risk management strategies include an FDA-approved drug label, which clearly describes the drug’s benefits and risks, and how the risks can be detected and managed. Sometimes, more effort is needed to manage risks. In these cases, a drug maker may need to implement a Risk Management and Mitigation Strategy (REMS).

Although many of the FDA’s risk-benefit assessments and decisions are straightforward, sometimes the benefits and risks are uncertain and may be difficult to interpret or predict. The agency and the drug maker may reach different conclusions after analyzing the same data, or there may be differences of opinion among members of the FDA’s review team. As a science-led organization, FDA uses the best scientific and technological information available to make decisions through a deliberative process.

Accelerated Approval

In some cases, the approval of a new drug is expedited. Accelerated Approval can be applied to promising therapies that treat a serious or life-threatening condition and provide therapeutic benefit over available therapies. This approach allows for the approval of a drug that demonstrates an effect on a “surrogate endpoint” that is reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit, or on a clinical endpoint that occurs earlier but may not be as robust as the standard endpoint used for approval. This approval pathway is especially useful when the drug is meant to treat a disease whose course is long, and an extended period of time is needed to measure its effect. After the drug enters the market, the drug maker is required to conduct post-marketing clinical trials to verify and describe the drug’s benefit. If further trials fail to verify the predicted clinical benefit, FDA may withdraw approval.

Since the Accelerated Approval pathway was established in 1992, many drugs that treat life-threatening diseases have successfully been brought to market this way and have made a significant impact on disease course. For example, many antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS entered the market via accelerated approval, and subsequently altered the treatment paradigm. A number of targeted cancer-fighting drugs also have come onto the market through this pathway.

Information source: FDA

The official FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine may also result in more employer requiring employees to get the vaccine or face termination.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) says it's possible that people who are terminated for not getting the vaccine may not qualify for unemployment benefits.

CDLE released the following statement to KOAA 5:

Employees who are let go or quit for not following a company policy that requires them to get vaccinated may file for unemployment insurance (UI), but that does not mean they will be approved to receive benefits. Every UI claim goes through an eligibility determination process — this is not an entitlement program — and eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, UI benefits are meant for Coloradans who lose work through no fault of their own. If the employee was fired or quit for not following a company policy, the UI Division will look at the circumstances around each individual scenario, including but not limited to: the nature of the work being performed, the reason for the requirement, and the reason for the refusal. If being vaccinated against COVID-19 is pertinent for the performance of the job, the employee will likely NOT be eligible for UI benefits.

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