TAMPA, Fla. — For nine hours Thursday, independent medical experts meticulously scrutinized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
The panel consisting of independent epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists asked question after question about the safety, efficacy, and benefits of rolling out this vaccine intended to prevent COVID-19.
Ultimately, the panel voted 17-4 with 1 abstention to recommend the emergency use authorization of the vaccine in Americans ages 16 and older. The Pfizer vaccine still needs final approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is expected sometime Friday.
The four no-votes ultimately came down to wording in the question the panel was tasked with voting on. The group had to decide on one, singular question:
Based on the totality of scientific evidence available, do the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks for use in individuals 16 years of age and older?
Every doctor was in agreement that the vaccine was safe and critical to controlling the pandemic, however a few experts were reluctant to recommend the vaccine for 16 and 17-year-olds because their COVID-19 risk was relatively low, therefore the reward might not outweigh the risk. Others cited lack of data and the need for parental consent as a reason to hold back on vaccinating that group.
However, other doctors argued that the risk of severe disease in people up to age 25 was low so that was not a good enough reason to hold back on the 16 and 17-year-olds. Furthermore, the data showed the vaccine is effective and safe for that group, which is biologically and physically not very different than young adults.
One portion of Thursday's meeting was dedicated to a public hearing session giving doctors and professors from around the country the opportunity to call in and voice their questions and concerns regarding the vaccine.
Dr. David Berger, a Tampa pediatrician with Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care was one of the callers. He took a few minutes to address building vaccine confidence and ensuring informed consent.
Berger opened by saying, "I am one of the few pediatricians in Florida who does not discharge families from my practice if they have vaccine hesitancy or do not wish to follow the recommended CDC schedule."
Berger talked about his own experience interacting with families who have vaccine hesitancy and said he finds most families will ultimately vaccinate if you're willing to have honest, meaningful dialogue without dismissing or minimizing someone's initial stance.
"We must allow for meaningful public scrutiny to build public confidence in the vaccine program," he added.
Berger urged the panel to ensure ongoing, complete transparency about the vaccine in terms of both safety and efficacy.