(p. A12) Even as President Biden, the C.D.C. and virtually the entire scientific community are urging — pleading with, even — Americans to get vaccinated, the government has not formally approved any vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration has instead given only “emergency use authorization” to the shots from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. That’s a temporary form of approval that allows people to receive shots while the agency continues to study their effectiveness and safety.
The difference between emergency authorization and full approval matters.
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The situation also feeds uncertainty and skepticism among some Americans who have not yet gotten a shot. Those skeptics, as Matthew Yglesias of Substack wrote yesterday, are effectively taking the F.D.A. at its word. The F.D.A. leaders’ official position is that “they don’t have enough safety data yet,” Yglesias noted.
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. . ., public health officials made highly technical statements about masks that many people interpreted as discouragement from wearing them. These statements ignored the many reasons to believe that masks could make a difference (like their longtime popularity in Asia to prevent the spread of viruses) and focused instead on the absence of studies showing that masks specifically prevented the spread of Covid.
Later, officials insisted that they were merely “following the data.” In truth, though, they were basing their advice on a narrow reading of the data — . . . .
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Think of it this way: In the highly unlikely event that the evidence were to change radically — if, say, the vaccines began causing serious side effects about 18 months after people had received a shot — Americans would not react by feeling confident in the F.D.A. and grateful for its caution. They would be outraged that Woodcock and other top officials had urged people to get vaccinated.
The combination means that the F.D.A.’s lack of formal approval has few benefits and large costs: The agency has neither protected its reputation for extreme caution nor maximized the number of Americans who have been protected from Covid. “In my mind, it’s the No. 1 issue in American public health,” Topol told me. “If we got F.D.A. approval, we could get another 20 million vaccinated,” he estimated.
For the full commentary, see:
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 21, 2021, and has the title “Why Aren’t the Vaccines Approved?”)