The delta variant of the coronavirus should have millions of Americans deeply concerned — specifically, those who aren't at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Experts say it is twice as infectious as previous strains and is now responsible for more than half of new cases in the United States. Twenty-four states have seen an increase of at least 10% in new infections over the previous week, according to the Johns Hopkins University virus tracker, with new cases nearly doubling in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma. Death rates and hospitalizations are up. While the numbers are far better than what was seen in January, America remains enmeshed in a public health emergency.
If the statistics showing the massive correlation between being vaccinated and avoiding infection aren't persuading people, another approach is needed. Marc A. Thiessen, a columnist for The Washington Post, has urged former President Donald Trump to join the nation's other ex-presidents in aggressively calling for everyone to be vaccinated — and for President Joe Biden to incentivize Trump to do so by crediting his administration's vigorous funding of vaccination research.
Sure. Why not? But given Trump's mercurial ways — and Biden's political calculus — few would bet on it. This divided nation has no time for delay. It needs to overcome vaccine hesitancy by any means possible. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in May showed a smart way to do so. The poll found a large minority of Americans were worried about the fact that the three vaccinations widely in use only had conditional, emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The survey showed that 32% of the unvaccinated would be more inclined to get shots if the drugs were fully approved — and that such full approval would do more to promote vaccinations than cash incentives, free time off work or transportation to vaccination sites.
Pfizer applied for full approval of its vaccine on May 7, and Moderna did so on June 1. But there is no indication of any FDA interest in responding in ways contrary to its bureaucratic norms.
This is hard to fathom. There have been more than 300 million vaccines administered in the United States and more than 3 billion worldwide, and the result has been an astonishingly broad reduction in new COVID-19 infections, with a strikingly low rate of adverse side effects.
The data set making the case for full approval isn't just solid. It is overwhelming.
Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, demolished the argument that the FDA's caution made any sense in an essay in The New York Times. He noted that the FDA had given full approval to a controversial Alzheimer's disease drug that had a far weaker case for efficacy than Pfizer's or Moderna's vaccines — and hadn't been used effectively on such a vast scale.
Meanwhile, some colleges, including the California State University system, are planning to require vaccines for those on campus only once full approval is granted. It is maddening to see bureaucrats not grasp what is obvious. The vaccines are a historic achievement. Let's recognize that officially.
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