US health secretary: Pfizer vaccine will be approved

Secretary Alex Azar as well as the Food and Drug Administration say that authorisation of the vaccine is imminent.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said authorisation of Pfizer's vaccine is imminent [File: Erin Scott/Reuters]

US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Friday that the Food and Drug Administration will move forward with an emergency use authorisation for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“The FDA informed Pfizer that they do intend to proceed toward an authorization for their vaccine,” Azar said in an interview with ABC News Friday, adding that he expects that authorisation will be granted “in the next couple of days”.

The FDA said it is working rapidly to issue the authorisation, with the first Americans set to be immunised as early as Monday or Tuesday.

The agency “has also notified the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed, so that they can execute their plans for timely vaccine distribution”, it said in a statement.

Another 2,902 US deaths were reported on Thursday, a day after a record 3,253 people died, a pace projected to continue for the next two to three months until the vaccine is widely distributed.

A panel of outside advisers to the FDA on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to endorse emergency use of the vaccine, paving the way for the agency to authorise the shot for a country that has lost more than 285,000 lives to COVID-19.

Pfizer has asked that the two-dose vaccine, developed with German partner BioNTech, be approved for use in people aged 16 to 85.

The vaccine, which was shown to be 95 percent effective in preventing the disease in a late-stage trial, is already approved in Britain, and people there began receiving the shots on Tuesday.

Bahrain and Canada have also authorised the vaccine, and Canada expects to start inoculations next week.

For months, US President Donald Trump had pressured the FDA in tweets and news conferences to move more quickly, accusing staff and Pfizer of dragging their feet.

Shortly after the FDA’s statement, the outgoing president criticised the agency for what he said was its slow handling of the vaccines and criticised FDA Commissioner Steven Hahn.

Not all Americans are ready

According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 61 percent of Americans said in December that they are open to getting vaccinated – a four-point decline from a similar poll conducted in May.

American women, who traditionally make most of the healthcare decisions in their families, are warier than men of the new, rapidly developed COVID-19 vaccines.

The December 2-8 national opinion survey showed that 35 percent of women said they were “not very” or “not at all” interested in getting a vaccine, an increase of nine points from the May poll.

Some 55 percent of women said they were “very” or “somewhat” interested in getting vaccinated, a drop of about six percentage points in the same time span. Meanwhile, 68 percent of men said they would get vaccinated, which is unchanged from May.

Politics also comes into play. According to the poll, Republicans, who have been generally less likely than others to wear protective face masks or express concerns about the virus, also appeared to be less likely to get vaccinated: 53 percent said they were interested in a vaccine, compared with 75 percent of Democrats.

African Americans were less likely to get the vaccine: 49 percent said they were interested in the vaccine, compared with 63 percent of whites and 61 percent of Hispanics. And 56 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 were interested in a vaccine, compared with 69 percent of those who are 55 or older.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 4,419 US adults, including 1,216 who said they were not interested in getting a coronavirus vaccine. The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about two percentage points for the entire sample and five points for smaller groups like African Americans.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies