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FDA panel endorses emergency use of a Pfizer vaccine

As the U.S. COVID-19 death toll topped 291,000, a panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration late Thursday endorsed the emergency use of a Pfizer vaccine to save lives for those who are 16 and older. It's highly anticipated FDA approval would mean the biggest vaccination campaign could get underway in a matter of days. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the U.S. COVID-19 death toll topped 291,000, a panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration late today has endorsed the emergency use of a Pfizer vaccine to save lives for those who are 16 years old or older.

    It's highly anticipated FDA approval would mean the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history could get under way in a matter of days.

    Amna Nawaz has the latest.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A pivotal step to clear one of the last hurdles before the U.S. approves its first COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Doran Fink:

    The American public demand and deserve a rigorous, comprehensive and independent review of the data.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In a day-long virtual meeting, an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend Pfizer's candidate for emergency approval.

    An FDA review already found it to be 95 percent effective.

  • Doran Fink:

    Based on the totality of scientific evidence available, do the benefits of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine outweigh its risks?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Today's public debate on its safety with outside science and health experts was meant to build confidence in the process, discussing issues like whether trial participants who received a placebo should be offered the vaccine once approved.

  • Steve Goodman:

    Some participants at higher risk will want the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And potential new risks will of the vaccine, like a few cases of allergic reaction reported in Britain.

  • Paul Offit:

    There are tens of millions of people in this country who carry EpiPens with them because they have peanut allergies, because they have egg allergies, who are going to believe now that they can't get this vaccine. That's a lot of people.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A majority of Americans already stand behind it. A "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll found 61 percent said they would get vaccinated. That's up from 49 percent in September.

    Still, this morning, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn tried to appeal to Americans with remaining skepticism.

  • Stephen Hahn:

    We need to vaccinate enough people to get herd immunity. I have 100 percent confidence, and I think the American public should as well, with respect to our review of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Federal regulators could authorize a vaccine for distribution as early as Friday, clearing the way for an unprecedented inoculation process.

    Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar:

  • Alex Azar:

    Product would ship within 24 hours. But here's the important thing. Twenty million Americans could be vaccinated just before the end of this month, in December. A total of 50 million Americans could be vaccinated by the end of January.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Welcome news in states like Virginia, where Governor Ralph Northam today imposed new restrictions.

  • Governor Ralph Northam, D-Va.:

    Case numbers have been rising for weeks. They're now at record high levels. They're higher now than they ever have been during this entire pandemic.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The U.S. reported a new high of 3,000 deaths in the last 24 hours alone, and hospitalizations reached a record 106,000. Overwhelmed front-line health care workers are hoping the vaccine will alleviate some of that pressure.

  • warren Gavin:

    Personally, I cannot roll up my sleeve fast enough to get this vaccination.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But Dr. Camara Jones, a physician, epidemiologist, and past president of the American Public Health Association, warns, the vaccine should not replace basic steps, like masking, distancing, and handwashing.

  • Camara Phyllis Jones:

    It's a very good thing, but it's not going to be the answer even in six months. So, right now, I am planning to keep my mask on for another year, through December of 2021 at least.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For another year, that's your plan.

  • Camara Phyllis Jones:

    Right now, what we have to do is mostly the public health stuff. That's the stuff that we have been able to do all along, but we did not fully implement.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    All this amid new concerns about political pressure on the CDC. Congressman Jim Clyburn today said a CDC employee raised concerns about efforts by the Trump administration to destroy evidence of interference in the pandemic response.

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