Local health leaders hopeful full FDA approval of Pfizer vaccine will increase vaccination rates

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Health leaders in the Coastal Health District are hopeful the full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will encourage more people to get the shot.

On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer vaccine for people ages 16 and older. The vaccine has been under emergency use authorization since December 2020.

For Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Coastal Health District, the approval is long-awaited.

“It just sort of underscores the confidence that we had in it all along,” Davis said. “I’m really hoping that some of those people who were on the fence will now go ahead and take advantage of it.”

The health district has seen a small increase in vaccine interest, Dr. Davis said. 

Of the eight counties in the district, Chatham has the highest vaccination rate with 44% fully vaccinated. Long County has the lowest rate with 16% fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.

“I would love for us to be inundated with people who now want to come in and get the fully-licensed Pfizer vaccine,” Davis said. “I’d love to have that be a problem. I’m sure that we’ll get some. I don’t anticipate it’ll open flood gates, but I wish it would.”

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that three in 10 unvaccinated adults said they would be more likely to get a COVID vaccine with full FDA approval.

Dr. Davis stressed that the Pfizer vaccine has now gone through the same vetting process as all other FDA-approved vaccines and medications.

“Any significant adverse event that was going to be associated with the vaccine has always been found within a month or less, typically even a shorter period of time,” Davis said.

As hospitalizations in the Coastal Health District continue to rise, hospital leaders are also hopeful more people will get vaccinated.

“Our hospitals are not full with people having complications from their vaccine,” says Dr. Stephen Thacker, Memorial Health’s associate chief medical officer. “Our hospitals are filled with people who are having complications from not being vaccinated.”

Hospitalizations in Chatham County reached 300 on Monday for the first time since the pandemic started. With the delta variant still circulating, Dr. Thacker estimates the current surge will peak in the next week or two.

“The vaccines are a strategy to keep us out of another resurgence,” Thacker said. “But in the short term, certainly masking and socially distancing and getting tested when you have new symptoms and avoiding exposing others is our real strategy to get us out of our current resurgence.”

Dr. Davis estimates the Coastal Health District may be able to begin offering a third booster dose for adults in approximately one month.

The Pfizer vaccine remains available under emergency use authorization for children between 12 and 15 years old, as well as for the third dose for immunocompromised people.

For COVID-19 vaccine locations in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, click here.

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