Will an FDA-Approved COVID-19 Vaccine Convince People to Get the Shot?

David Weber, MD, MPH, explains what portion of the population may buy into the newly approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made history yesterday by fully approving the first vaccine indicated for the prevention of COVID-19. The Biologics License Application (BLA) for Pfizer-BioNTech’s 2-dose mRNA vaccine BNT162b2 (Comirnaty) was approved for persons aged 16 years and older.

The new indication opens prescribing opportunities for physicians, and rationale for vaccine mandates among industries including businesses, school systems, and healthcare networks. But, as some experts noted to Contagion, the impact of a full FDA vaccine approval may be limited by the reception of the remaining US population that is not immunized against COVID-19.

In an interview with Contagion, David Weber, MD, MPH, Associate Chief Medical Officer at UNC Health Care, discussed a realistic rate of the population that may be persuaded by the Pfizer-BioNTech BLA to receive their first vaccine dose.

As he noted, monthly national polls from as far back as November 2020 showed that approximately 50% of the population was “vaccine hesitant,” while 20-25% was “vaccine resistant.”

“That group that was vaccine hesitant has continued to shrink greatly as more data has emerged, both for safety and effectiveness,” Weber said. “The group that was vaccine resistant hasn’t budged at all, essentially.”

Weber believes a portion of the vaccine-hesitant population will indeed seek vaccination after the FDA decision. He also stressed the robust data supporting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the time of the FDA approval, relative to previously approved and widely accepted vaccines.

“I should say we know, at this point in time today, more about this vaccine in terms of safety and effectiveness than any other vaccine at the time it was approved,” he said. “Literally hundreds of millions of people have had the vaccine.”

What’s still unknown, of course, is the duration of the vaccine’s efficacy—the approximate years’ worth of clinical data contrasted against the average 3-4 years worth of data available with other regulated vaccines.