August 23, 2021 (Monday)

Historic FDA Approval for Pfizer Vaccine, amid Afghanistan Evacuation Peril

August 23, 2021 (Monday)

Today, the Food and Drug Administration gave full and final approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which had previously been in use under an emergency authorization. The FDA approved the vaccine for people 16 and older. It has not yet been fully approved for people aged 12 to 15; for them it is still under an emergency authorization.

The good news about the vaccine’s approval sent the stock market soaring, as investors hoped the approval would lead to a surge in vaccinations, which would, in turn, strengthen the economy.

While this full authorization may help convince those hesitant about the vaccine to get one, it is more likely to help increase vaccination rates by sparking further vaccine mandates. Today President Joe Biden encouraged private businesses to require their employees to get vaccinated.

With the FDA’s full approval, the Pentagon will move forward with a requirement that all military personnel get the vaccine. In New York City, mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has announced that all 148,000 public school teachers in the city must have at least one shot of the vaccine by September 27.

In Florida, the current death rate exceeds its highest number of deaths in any earlier wave of the pandemic. Last week the state had more than 150,000 new coronavirus infections, and this morning about 75 doctors in Palm Beach Gardens staged a symbolic walkout from their hospitals in a direct appeal to the public to get vaccinated. They warned that they are burning out from caring for the sick. “It’s the worst it’s ever been right now,” Dr. Robin Kass told Katherine Kokal of the Palm Beach Post. “And I just think that nobody realizes that.”

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is standing firm on his refusal to permit mask mandates in schools, but the situation has gotten so bad that six school districts that together enroll more than a million students have passed mask mandates anyway. On Friday, the staunchly Republican Sarasota County joined the five Democratic districts of Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, and Alachua counties to require masks in schools.

The airlift out of Afghanistan continues, with about 11,000 people flown out today. Since August 14, the U.S. has gotten about 48,000 people out of Afghanistan. While pundits have compared the evacuation from Afghanistan to that from Saigon in 1975 after North Vietnamese forces took the city, in that case the U.S. rescued about 7000 people in only two days, from April 29 to April 30.

Biden suggested today that the airlift might continue past his self-imposed deadline of August 31, but Pentagon leaders said they would complete the evacuation by that date and Taliban leaders said they would not tolerate an extension. The Taliban faces pressure from ISIS-K, a different extremist group, and cannot afford to appear too weak, especially since it is currently in talks with officials of the former, pro-U.S. Afghan regime to hammer out a government for the country.


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