FDA approval of Pfizer shot not swaying some vaccine holdouts

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For five months, Chris Brummett has ignored his wife’s pleas that he get a coronavirus vaccine. He cares even less that federal regulators finally issued a long-awaited approval for one of them.

“My wife is on me all the time to do it,” said Brummett, 43, from Jackson County, Ind., who followed news this week of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine. But Brummett, a libertarian critical of both the Biden and Trump administrations, said he’s struggling to trust any government messages about the virus. “I guess for now it’s a no for me.”

Tyler McCann, 24, of Augusta, Ga., also remains a skeptic, citing the low risk of complications for people his age. “If I get it,” McCann says of COVID-19, “I will blame myself entirely. It’ll be my fault. But until then. . . I don’t see the necessity, and with how politicized it’s been, I’m just annoyed with it.”

Mark Anthony Garcia, 49, of Ingleside, Texas, ponders new questions since the FDA’s approval. “If the vaccine’s that good, why are we having breakthroughs?” said Garcia, referencing reports of coronavirus cases among fully vaccinated Americans. “They’re blaming [the pandemic] on the unvaccinated, but the vaccinated are spreading it too.”

Federal officials have sought for months to persuade holdouts like Brummett, McCann and Garcia, who are among the roughly 85 million still-unvaccinated eligible Americans—a largely entrenched population despite a range of incentives, political appeals and now mandates to get the shots. But hopes that many of those skeptics would be swayed by vaccine approval appear to have been unrealistic, according to interviews with 16 unvaccinated Americans—including six who said earlier this year that they would be more likely to get vaccinated if FDA approved the shots.

The FDA’s approval “increased the likelihood” of getting vaccinated, said Derrick M., a 27-year-old who just left active-duty military service and like several, spoke with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity for fear he might be harassed. “But at this time, I’m still not planning to get it.”

The sheer number of still-skeptical Americans—and their willingness to shift the goalposts on what might convince them—underscores that vaccination mandates are essential, said Robert Murphy, an infectious-disease physician and executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Thousands of employers have already imposed vaccine requirements on workers, with a slew of additional organizations, ranging from the Pentagon to CVS Health, citing the FDA approval when announcing their own mandates this week. While regulators had previously authorized the shots for emergency use, the agency’s formal approval is expected to provide further legal cover for companies that had debated requirements.

“That’s what’s going to do it,” Murphy said. “If they realize that they’re going to lose their job, they’re going to really think twice whether they really want to avoid the vaccine.”

Only a single unvaccinated person interviewed by The Post said the FDA approval had changed his mind—but he’s not eligible to get vaccinated until November, because he received Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment for a recent coronavirus infection.

“I can’t get it for 90 days according to my doctor ’cause of the antibodies I got now from the corona,” said Cliff Barnett, 67, of Mobile, Ala., who was hospitalized for five days earlier this month.

Barnett said he did not regret waiting to get vaccinated, despite a case of coronavirus that was so severe he collapsed to the floor when he first walked into the hospital two weeks ago. “It could’ve been worse,” he said.

Public health experts had eagerly awaited the FDA’s action for months, with anticipation mounting in June after the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31 percent of unvaccinated adults said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if the FDA granted full approval to one of the vaccines.

That statistic and similar predictions were widely touted this week by politicians and pundits. The government’s top-infectious disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, predicted on NPR on Monday that at least 18 million vaccine skeptics “will now step forward and get vaccinated.”

“If you’re one of the millions of Americans who said that they will not get the shot . . . until it has full and final approval of the FDA, it has now happened,” President Biden said Monday. “The moment you’ve been waiting for is here, and it’s time for you to go get your vaccination and get it today.”

But an expert who oversaw the Kaiser Family Foundation poll said she didn’t expect that FDA approval alone would change minds.

“Most people have multiple reasons and concerns about getting vaccinated—it’s not just one thing,” said Liz Hamel, a Kaiser Family Foundation director. “It may take some time for people to think about it.”

Hamel and her colleagues are planning to survey Americans again after Labor Day to gauge reaction to the FDA’s approval, she said.

Meanwhile, vaccine opponents are attacking the FDA’s credibility, with some exhuming previously debunked claims about the agency’s track record and promoting them on social media.

“FDA Approval of Pfizer Shot Does Not Mean Safe,” Liberty Counsel, a conservative advocacy organization that’s fought against vaccination mandates, claimed in a statement to reporters.

Jennifer Bridges, a nurse in Houston, Texas, had told The Post in May that she didn’t trust the vaccines because they lacked full approval. But now that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot has checked that box, Bridges said she and her allies don’t believe regulators did their due diligence.

“Everybody who didn’t want the shot is literally appalled by the fact that it got FDA approved,” Bridges said on Tuesday, arguing that the FDA had rushed to approve the shots despite evidence of their waning efficacy.

Bridges, who was fired from Houston Methodist in June for refusing to comply with its vaccination mandate, said she’s now helping organize other workers—from flight attendants to health care workers—who don’t want to get vaccinated “so they can help fight mandates” as a team.

For some unvaccinated Americans, the FDA approval is the latest in a series of actions and appeals that have fallen flat, or further antagonized them.

Garcia, for instance, said incentive campaigns to get vaccinated, like state lotteries offering millions of dollars in giveaways, undermined his faith in the vaccines. “I feel it’s a tactic to coerce people,” he added. “I felt like I was in Vegas—’hey, come to our place, we’ll give you free food and a hotel room.'”

Nearly all of the people who spoke with The Post also chafed at the idea of vaccination mandates, calling them an infringement of their liberties.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Belinda Bowman-Cook, who lives in Washington, D.C., and declined to give her vaccination status. “There’s plenty of people out here with cancer and other illnesses. If they decided that they don’t want treatment for cancer, you don’t go and say ‘if you don’t take this right here, you’re going to die.'”

But health experts stressed that the situation is different with an infectious disease where it’s everyone’s shared responsibility to keep one another safe. “If only that person was at risk for getting infected, okay, let them go get infected—that’s their choice,” said Murphy, the infectious-disease doctor. “But they’re infecting other people [with coronavirus], and that’s not fair.”

“We don’t let people drive 100 miles an hour on the highway—we make everybody wear a seatbelt,” he added. “We make you put your kids in secure seats in the cars. We even make you buy insurance for your car.”

As some employers weigh whether to require workers to get vaccinated, those who have already done so defend them as essential—and effective. Houston Methodist, for instance, saw more than 97 percent of workers comply with its vaccination mandate, with about 2 percent obtaining exemptions and 1 percent leaving the organization.

“After I announced the mandate at the end of July, the overwhelming responses I got were, ‘thank you, thank you for keeping us safe, I now feel safer coming to work,'” said Janice E. Nevin, CEO of Delaware-based Christiana Care, the largest private employer in the state.

Nevin also said that she believed the FDA approval had sparked more vaccine interest. Thirty-six people turned up at an employee vaccination event held on Christiana Care’s Newark, Del., campus on Tuesday, up from about 25 people at previous events this month, staff said.

“One of our caregivers brought her daughter in,” Nevin said. “Her daughter’s starting nursing school, and is now feeling very comfortable about getting vaccinated.”

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24 thoughts on “FDA approval of Pfizer shot not swaying some vaccine holdouts

  1. https://youtu.be/8DOOZpGA_VI
    Approval of the vaccine is the equivalent of Sony coming out with a new VHS machine. The Virus (now Delta) is beyond this now approved vaccine, it was made for the original strain which is virtually eradicated now. It will only enhance your chances of getting sick because it will now help spread the Delta Variant through your system. Facts. Science.

    1. I’m certain the two of your are experts on mRNA vaccines and how they work. The Pfizer trial and now full approval is based solely on its mRNA vaccine attenuating the first strain, not Delta. My analogy may be off; however, it doesn’t change the fact that the virus has mutated. The FDA has said it is not effective against Delta.

    2. Among the speakers were several known anti-vaccine doctors, including Dr. Christina Parks — a Ph.D. who pushes debunked theories about vaccines causing autism and the benefits of hydroxichlorquine; Dr. James Neuenschwander — who was disciplined in 2015 by the state medical board for negligence; and Dr. Moehanid Talia — who accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of funding and profiting from the spread of outbreaks dating back to the early 2000s.


      I get the resistance to the vaccine based on the Tuskegee experiment, though.

    3. There is literally nothing you can tell vaccine holdouts. Even if you implement restrictions like vaccine passports, most will lie and fake the paper. They think they’ll be fine, let them find out the hard way. More vaccines for the rest of us to get boosters, I guess.

    4. I know that the current vaccines will not work as well on the newer variants so I wonder how difficult it is to change them to be more effective? With the flu shot every year it’s hit or miss on it’s effectiveness because they have to guess a year in advance on what will hit us and it doesn’t prevent you from getting, but still is good for keeping the severity down or from dying. Maybe that’s good enough with these shots as well. I would think with approval that they can vary them to keep up with variants without having to get an approval every time they change the formulation? I don’t know of course. Just throwing it out there for discussion.

    5. Jeff, vaccines are doing their job as far dramatically reducing the rate of infection, severe illness, hospitalization, placement in the ICU, intubation, and death from COVID. I guess you can argue other than that, they’re a total failure since they don’t prevent infection in 100% of patients.

      A magic bullet that prevents all illness would be lovely but is not what was promised, and a vaccine that delivers on the above would be adequate for getting out out of the current situation … if there was sufficient uptake.

      If you look at the states with the lowest number of cases, they’re also on the high end when it comes to percentage of their citizens that are vaccinated. The states with less people vaccinated are the ones with the highest number of cases. I somehow doubt this is an accident.

    6. Joe B good points. I guess my comments or questions are more to remind everyone like you say they are not magic bullets, but are effective at keeping hospitalizations and death low for vaccinated people. Maybe part of the problem was the initial efficacy numbers which made it sound like they would prevent infection in almost everyone. I don’t see that as being oversold because at the time that’s what they did and no-one knew how long the first set of shots would last. We learn, things change and we adjust. So be it. It’s still our best defense even if no longer perfect.

  2. I’ve decided to accept that some people will, for reasons other than medical inability to be vaccinated, refuse the vaccine. But fair being fair, if you do so you should agree to not be taken to a hospital, not take up a bed, in general medical, a COVID ward, or in ICU, not be put on a ventilator, and that no one will worry about you or mourn your passing if it comes to that. You want to be the iconoclast who bravely follows a fool’s dogma, have at it. You and God, if you believe in God and the afterlife, can sort it out between you…

    1. Tim…so by that rational, we should segregate and not admit/treat all overweight or obese people, smokers, etc. because heart disease, diabetes, cancer are way, way more fatal than Covid. I am delighted to see you on the attack, simply means you have no logical argument left. To be fair…I will pray for you!

    2. Tim S was a little harsh, but I am for insurance companies charging extra premiums for unvaccinated people and NOT waving deductibles if you are unvaccinated. Choices have consequences and you should have to take personal responsibility for those choices.

      The current battle cry is “Give me the freedom to destroy the public health of the country with no consequences”.

    3. Actually the insurance industry DOES currently charge more for coverage if you fall into one of those categories, especially smoking. I agree with Tim as well about forgoing treatment if you refuse the vaccine. People with serious medical conditions, heart attacks, strokes…etcs…., are being turned away from hospitals, because they are full of Covid patients and have not available beds, a very high percentage of which didn’t get vaccinated. If I were to have a cardiac today, there is a real risk I may otherwise die from an event that has a high chance of survival, but due to people not getting vaccinated and clogging up the hospitals, the chance of survival may very well go to zero.

    4. This quote maybe inspired Tim’s comments…


      Only a single unvaccinated person interviewed by The Post said the FDA approval had changed his mind—but he’s not eligible to get vaccinated until November, because he received Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment for a recent coronavirus infection.

      “I can’t get it for 90 days according to my doctor ’cause of the antibodies I got now from the corona,” said Cliff Barnett, 67, of Mobile, Ala., who was hospitalized for five days earlier this month.

      Barnett said he did not regret waiting to get vaccinated, despite a case of coronavirus that was so severe he collapsed to the floor when he first walked into the hospital two weeks ago. “It could’ve been worse,” he said.


      So you contract the coronavirus, you get a bad enough case you can’t even walk into the hospital, they had to pump you full of antibodies for you to make it, and your response to the entire affair is “it could have been worse” and you still think it was the right decision to not get vaccinated?

  3. All three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are highly effective against the virus in terms of reducing rates of infection, serious illness requiring emergency room or hospital care, and risk of dying. This is also true for the Delta-variant. The Delta-variant’s true danger is its enhanced ability to spread quickly. For every person infected with the initial, or Alpha, COVID virus, 2-3 others would become infected (R0, or R “naught’ = 2-3). With the Delta-variant that number is 8-9. With three rounds of transmission, one person will infect over 700 others. The apparent decreased effectiveness of the vaccines is due to declining levels of antibodies over time, something characteristic of all vaccines and all antibodies. This is the rationale for booster doses. Vaccines can be highly efficacious for individuals, along with basic public health safety measures (masking, distancing, hand washing), but a strategy of vaccination for a population can only be successful if as many individuals as possible get vaccinated and practice such measures to reduce the amount of virus in the community and its transmission. The decision not to get vaccinated is not exclusively an individual one. It directly affects everyone. The virus will not be crushed unless everyone does their part to eradicate the virus. The safety of schools, nursing homes, businesses, hospitals, houses of worship, and extended families depend on the selfless, patriotic, and responsible decisions of all. Those frustrated by masking, social restrictions, economic interruptions, and disruption of normal life have the power to help break this cycle by getting vaccinated and supporting common sense public health measures to suppress and hopefully eliminate the virus. Although vaccination may be a personal decision, it is a duty to the common good. One’s liberties should not threaten the rights of others.

    1. Deaths reported to VAERS from Covid Vaccines combine for more deaths than all vaccines in past 30 years combined. IQVIA – Independent Clinical Trial Company. Conveniently omitted from your CDC webpages and other Government sources and databases. Tuskegee on a grander scale? Who knows!

    2. Deaths reported to VAERS are not deaths proven to come from vaccines.

      But you know that if you’ve done more than 25 seconds of research form any reputable sources.

  4. I’m waiting for the airline industry as a whole to mandate vaccines in order to fly, either domestically or internationally. Granted there will still be hold outs and statements of “Who cares….I never fly anyway!!”….but it would make it infinitely easier for those of us that have been fully vaccinated to get back to some sense of normal. The cruise lines are all ready doing this it’s just a matter of time until rail and airliners do it as well.

    1. but it’s starting to look like the vaccine I took back in early April is not very good after six months so what good is “fully vaccinated” if your shot has worn off? Am I any better off than an unvaccinated person after so many months?

    2. Yes, you are better off. The protection decreases but doesn’t disappear, and even the “breakthrough” cases in vaccinated folks are far less likely to result in hospitalization and death. And your booster in a couple months will “top off” your protection.

  5. Definitely best to get the vaccine but the FDA approved a vaccine Comirnaty that has yet to be distributed in the U.S. the pfizer vaccine remains EUA not FDA approved.