Aug. 23 (UPI) — U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Sunday he believes full federal approval of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine will lead to increased vaccination numbers and vaccine mandates from businesses, universities and other entities.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Murthy responded to reports by The New York Times, CNBC and other outlets that the Food and Drug Administration is aiming to grant full approval to the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Monday.
“I anticipate that, if and when that comes, that will have two impacts. I think for people who have been waiting for this … and that’s a small number of people, but I think still significant — I think this may tip them over toward getting vaccinated,” Murthy said.
“But also I think that, for businesses and universities that have been thinking about putting vaccine requirements in place in order to create safer places for people to work and learn, I think that this move from the FDA, when it comes, will actually help them to move forward with those kinds of plans.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 170,821,621 people, representing 51.5% of the U.S. population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while at least 60.7% have received at least one dose. Among adults, 62.4% have completed their vaccination regimen and 73% have received at least begun.
Murthy on Sunday noted that this sample size has shown the vaccines are effective and that people should get vaccinated as soon as possible, regardless of the status of federal approval.
“I think what is important for us to realize is that we have had strong evidence from real world data that this vaccine has been doing remarkably well and has maintained a strong safety profile,” he said. “We have given it to hundreds of millions of people and we have seen that it’s doing its job.”
Amid the presence of the highly infectious Delta variant, cases have surged throughout the United States, with the CDC reporting a seven-day moving case average of 134,859 as of Friday.
Among the most affected areas are Mississippi, which is reporting 120 new cases a day per 100,000 people over the past seven days, followed by 109 in Florida and 108 in Louisiana, according to The New York Times.
There have also been high-profile instances of so-called “breakthrough” infections among fully vaccinated people, with Sens. Angus King, I-Maine; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., announced separately Thursday that they each tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.
“I’m told my infection was brief and mild because of the vaccination I received,” Abbott said in a video posted to Twitter. “So I encourage others who have not received the vaccination to consider getting one.”
As of Aug. 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 8,054 so-called “breakthrough” COVID-19 infections among vaccinated individuals that have resulted in hospitalization or death.
Citing the threat of the Delta variant, the CDC and other health organizations plan to make booster shots available for vaccinated people eight months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine beginning in September.
Murthy said that boosters will allow people to “stay ahead of this virus” and the rollout will prioritize those at the highest risk, such as healthcare workers and the elderly.
“[T]he vaccines are continuing to work remarkably well for preventing people from ending up in the hospital, and they are saving lives. So that’s the reason we are not recommending boosters today,” Murthy told ABC News’ “This Week.”
“But what we are seeing is a decline in the protection against mild to moderate disease, and so we are anticipating there may be an erosion in that important protection that we’re seeing today down the line.”
Earlier this month, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged a booster moratorium of about two months calling on wealthier nations to instead send vaccine doses to poorer nations.
On Sunday, Murthy said the United States must both “protect American lives” and “help vaccinate the world” noting that overall vaccine supply has been growing.
“And that’s why, in addition to donating more than 120 million doses of vaccine and moving out on the commitment of 500 million doses starting this month that the president announced earlier in the summer, we’re also working with companies and with other countries to stand up manufacturing capacity, so we can really scale up production of the vaccine,” he said. “We have to work on both fronts. That is the only way the pandemic will end.”