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MSU Infectious Disease Expert 'Optimistic' FDA Approval Of Pfizer Vaccine Will Increase Vaccination Rate

Box of COVID-19 vaccine bottles
Scott Pohl
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WKAR/MSU

Dr. Peter Gulick hopes that FDA approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine will increase the vaccination rate.

This week, the federal Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people age 16 and older. Before Monday, vaccine manufacturers only had emergency use authorization for the vaccines that have been administered to millions of Americans. Pfizer's vaccine is the first to reach this milestone.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl talks with Michigan State University infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Gulick about the FDA vaccine approval.

Interview Highlights

On Whether FDA Approval Will Increase Vaccination Rate

Some of the polls say that about three out of 10 individuals were still hesitant to get the vaccine. Three out of 10 now feel more secure in getting that vaccine. So at least it's a good start.

On Employers Mandating Vaccinations

We have other major organizations, companies, the (U.S.) Defense Department, all these have put mandates now as far as getting the vaccine. So, I see that as probably just increasing.

Scott Pohl: You heard a sentiment expressed in recent months, by a small but not insignificant number of people, that FDA approval is what they were waiting for in terms of deciding to get vaccinated or not. That came this week. Are you optimistic that that will lead to some sort of an upsurge in vaccinations?

Dr. Peter Gulick: Yeah, I'm always optimistic about anything like that, because now with it being approved, I think many individuals who had that little bit of uncertainty with just emergency authorization, maybe not trials being completed, maybe not all adverse effects being noted. But now with this being approved, I think that will open the doors to at least some of the individuals that had a little bit of pessimism against the vaccine.

Some of the polls say that about three out of 10 individuals were still hesitant to get the vaccine. Three out of 10 now feel more secure in getting that vaccine. So at least it's a good start.

Pohl: It's also been reported that there are likely to be more mandates put in place by employers regarding vaccinations. Do you see that happening, too?

Gulick: I see it already happening. The major universities in Michigan: Wayne State, U of M, MSU, and Grand Valley State have already put down mandates for vaccinations. And then we have other major organizations, companies, the (U.S.) Defense Department, all these have put mandates now as far as getting the vaccine. So, I see that as probably just increasing.

Pohl: Booster shots are also starting to be reported on, including they're coming to Lansing this week. Sparrow (Hospital) is beginning to offer third shots of both Pfizer and Moderna to immunocompromised people in Lansing this week. How much do we know about the effectiveness of third shots? How many people have gotten third shots to be evaluated? What do we know about that?

Dr. Peter Gulick photo
WKAR File Photo
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WKAR-MSU
Dr. Peter Gulick of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Gulick: With the Delta variant occurring, what we found was that the effectiveness, at least with the mRNA vaccines were initially 91% effective in preventing infections and serious disease, then reduced to about 66%, and again, not to be alarmed by that figure because what that simply means is that more individuals are getting infected with the Delta despite being vaccinated but not getting serious infections.

And, what they also found was that individuals that had various immunocompromised conditions, for instance bone marrow transplants or solid organ transplants, after getting vaccinated, they may have only got maybe a 30% to 40% response as far as developing neutralizing antibodies. Then if you look at cancer patients with chemotherapy, it may have been up to 60%, and then other individuals maybe 70%. So, there's a big gap in the amount of antibodies that are being produced versus the very same in a compromised state.

It was felt that possibly a booster might improve that, and there had been studies done giving these immunocompromised individuals boosters, and they found that they did get a surge in neutralizing antibodies. So, they thought this was where they developed their first major focus on giving that booster to those individuals, and that's what's going on currently.

What they plan to do is then to open that up to other individuals, individuals that are older, obviously greater than 60, 65, years of age and then the group that maybe have got the vaccine probably six to eight months ago as far as also being candidates for the booster as well.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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