Full federal approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for those 16 and older is opening the way for institutions like the military, corporate employers, hospitals and school districts to announce vaccine mandates for their employees.
National medical groups hailed the step. A joint statement by the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and American Nurses Association called it “a major step forward in the worldwide effort to end this pandemic.”
“Today’s news marks a critical moment for people who were concerned about getting vaccinated due to the vaccines being authorized for emergency use,” the statement said. “With millions of data points on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy over nearly nine months of vaccinations, every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed.”
The groups added, “With the Delta variant surging, there has never been a better time to get vaccinated.”
The F.D.A.’s approval also brought into force a requirement in New York announced in May that all in-person students at State University of New York and City University of New York schools be vaccinated. CUNY’s website said that after federal approval students “have 45 days to get fully vaccinated or will be subject to potential academic withdrawal.”
One of the first and largest is at the Pentagon, which announced on Monday that it was moving ahead with plans to require all active-duty troops to be vaccinated. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III will soon send specific vaccination guidelines to the country’s 1.4 million active-duty service members, the Pentagon said.
Mr. Austin had already received authorization from President Biden to mandate vaccines for troops once the vaccine was fully approved, and he is moving swiftly to put the plans into action, said John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman.
“These efforts ensure the safety of our service members,” Mr. Kirby said during a news briefing on Monday. He said the deadline date for getting vaccinated was still being determined.
The move is intended to harden the country’s defenses against the highly contagious Delta variant, which has driven new cases and hospitalizations up across the country, especially in areas with low rates of vaccination, where many military bases are located.
Mr. Biden announced last month that all federal employees and on-site contractors must be vaccinated against the coronavirus, or else submit to regular testing and other measures. The requirement applied to the 766,372 civilians working for the Defense Department, but not active-duty service members.
Mr. Austin has previously said that he would not be comfortable imposing a mandate before vaccines were fully approved by the F.D.A. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that there was an undercurrent of resistance to the vaccine in the armed forces.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
The Defense Department’s website said that as of Aug. 18, more than one million service members have been vaccinated, along with more than 300,000 civilian employees.
New York City announced on Monday that every employee of the city’s Department of Education, from principals to janitors, would have to receive at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by Sept. 27. Hours later, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey announced that all state employees and employees of public, private and parochial schools in his state must be fully inoculated by Oct. 18 or be tested once or twice a week for the virus. And Chevron became the first major American oil producer to require its field workers to get vaccinated.
Before the F.D.A.’s announcement, the three coronavirus vaccines available in the United States, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, were all being administered in the United States under an emergency use authorization. (The Pfizer vaccine remains available on that basis for youths 12 to 15 and for extra doses for some immunocompromised people.)
The F.D.A.’s approval action on Monday could reinforce the legal standing of some mandates and pave the way for some organizations to impose stricter requirements and no longer allow employees the option of frequent testing as an alternative to getting vaccinated.
Officials also hope that full federal approval will quiet some of the vaccine misinformation online and induce more hesitant people to get vaccinated. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that three out of every 10 unvaccinated people said that they would be more likely to get a shot once it was fully approved.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter on Monday that he thought full approval of the vaccine would make a difference, “mostly by providing confidence to businesses, schools, and yes, our military to mandate vaccines. And it is already starting to happen.”