The Pfizer vaccine gets full FDA approval, eliminating a primary argument for not getting it

The FDA has given full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, marking a major milestone in the fight against the global coronavirus pandemic.

Since FDA Emergency Use Authorization was issued for the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines earlier this year, some hesitant people have refused to get the vaccine, citing the fact that it wasn't fully approved by the FDA. Now that full FDA approval has been granted for the Pfizer vaccine (which is actually officially named Comirnaty—who knew?), that argument is moot. And with Moderna's approval submission clocking about a month after Pfizer, it's entirely likely we'll have two fully approved vaccines for COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

The big question now is—will it actually make that much difference?

On the hopeful side, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31% of unvaccinated Americans they surveyed last month indicated that they would be more likely to get vaccinated if the vaccine received full FDA approval. If all of those people changed their minds due to this approval, we'd have millions more Americans receiving the vaccine. With hospitals filling up with unvaccinated people across the country, putting a heavy strain on already burnt-out healthcare workers, getting more people vaccinated is imperative.

But even full approval doesn't seem to be budging the die-hard never-vaxxers.


A small-but-loud minority of Americans simply have a blanket distrust of the FDA (or any government regulatory agency), and this full approval is just seen as another untrustworthy move by an untrusted source. Social media today is filled with people asking how much the FDA was paid to give this full approval. Figuring out how to reach these people is an ongoing mystery.

Another minority of Americans are immersed in media that pushes misinformation about the vaccines and the pandemic in general, leading people to the erroneous belief that they're better off risking a COVID infection than getting the vaccine. Though COVID misinformation can be outright lies, more often it's studies or statistics or stories that are cherry-picked and used in misleading ways. (Watch the comments on this article if you read it on Facebook. There will be no shortage of such misinformation being shared. Happens every time.)

One example of such misleading information is reports of the number of vaccine reactions in VAERS, the U.S. government's Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System. If a person were to just look at the numbers in that database (which is available for anyone to see) without proper analysis, they could easily believe that the vaccines were dangerous, leading to thousands of people's deaths and sickening thousands more.

However VAERS numbers have to be taken for what they are—self-reported, unverified reactions that 1) may not be real or accurate since anyone can submit to it, and 2) have not been demonstrated to actually be caused by the vaccine.

Here's one example of why raw VAERS numbers are essentially meaningless: When we're vaccinating more than 100 million people in a handful of months, basic statistics would tell us that a certain number of those people will die of out-of-the-blue heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, or other sudden death events within a close window of receiving the vaccine, even though such events actually have nothing to do with the vaccine.

Here's how that math works: According to the American Public Health Association, around 2,200 Americans die each day of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases every day. That's about one person every 40 seconds, and that's in years when there's not a mass vaccination effort happening. At the peak of vaccinations in April, the U.S. was administering over 1,300 vaccine doses every 40 seconds. Statistically, it's completely expected that some sudden deaths would coincide closely with a vaccine dose—but that doesn't mean that the vaccine caused them. Doctors investigate all reported deaths following vaccines, and there is simply no indication that vaccines are causing people to die or be severely impacted in any statistically significant way.

One might assume that the FDA's pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for safety review when a correlation between the vaccine and a higher than normal incidence of rare, severe (but treatable) blood clots was discovered would have given people some faith that the safety monitoring systems work as they should. But memories are short and paranoia is high. Add in the fact that we're watching science happen in real-time, and that accurate information and guidance have changed many times as we've learned more, and it's not surprising that a lot of people simply don't know what to think anymore.

While this full FDA approval won't convince everyone who is hesitant to get the vaccine, hopefully it will convince some. (For those still on the fence, you can read the FDA insert that will now accompany the Pfizer vaccine here and an FAQ about the vaccine and the approval of it here.)

As always, look to the majority of experts in the epidemiology/virology/immunology fields for accurate information and ignore the handful of skeptics-with-credentials who thrive on social media attention and feed on people's distrust of institutions and authority. And for the love, run from anyone who says, "Do your own research," unless you actually have the expertise and ability to conduct clinical research. (For real, watching YouTube videos and searching hashtags on Twitter does not count.)

Let's celebrate the incredible medical feat of the world's top medical scientists during the pandemic, do our part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and get the free, widely available, and now fully FDA-approved vaccine as soon as possible.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Screenshots via @castrowas95/Twitter

In the Pacific Northwest, orca sightings are a fairly common occurrence. Still, tourists and locals alike marvel when a pod of "sea pandas" swim by, whipping out their phones to capture some of nature's most beautiful and intelligent creatures in their natural habitat.

While orcas aren't a threat to humans, there's a reason they're called "killer whales." To their prey, which includes just about everything that swims except humans, they are terrifying apex predators who hunt in packs and will even coordinate to attack whales several times their own size.

So if you're a human alone on a little platform boat, and a sea lion that a group of orcas was eyeing for lunch jumps onto your boat, you might feel a little wary. Especially when those orcas don't just swim on by, but surround you head-on.

Watch exactly that scenario play out (language warning, if you've got wee ones you don't want f-bombed):

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