COVID-19 surge continues in Fairfax County as FDA grants full approval to vaccine

Coronavirus illustration (via CDC on Unsplash)

The U.S. has its first officially approved COVID-19 vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration announced this morning (Monday) that it has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for individuals 16 and older based on updated data from clinical trials that showed the vaccine is 91% effective at preventing the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

That is lower than the 95% effectiveness rate reported on Dec. 11, when the Pfizer vaccine became the first innoculation authorized for emergency use in the country, but the FDA says the vaccine meets its standards for safety, quality, and effectiveness, including against hospitalization or death due to a COVID-19 infection.

“While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

The Pfizer vaccine also remains authorized for use by adolescents between 12 and 15 years of age. Moderna started the process to get full approval of its vaccine, which is currently authorized for adults 18 and older, on June 1, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still available for adults after a brief pause this spring.

The full approval allows Pfizer to advertise its vaccine and continue selling it after the federal public health emergency for the pandemic ends, but local and state officials hope it will also convince more people to get vaccinated, as COVID-19 cases continue to climb due to the highly infectious Delta variant.

“Today’s news is yet another reaffirmation that vaccines are safe and effective,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “Though all three COVID vaccines are approved for emergency use, the FDA’s official approval of Pfizer’s vaccine is good news for our community. We have been distributing Pfizer since day one and have plenty on hand for those who would like one. Anyone who is not vaccinated, or who was waiting for this FDA action, should go get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones against COVID-19.”

According to Virginia Department of Health data, Fairfax County reported 206 new COVID-19 cases on Friday (Aug. 20), the first time its single-day caseload surpassed 200 since April 13. With another 336 cases coming in over the weekend and 124 cases added today, including from the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, the Fairfax Health District has seen a total of 82,600 cases since the start of the pandemic.

4,227 people in the district have been hospitalized, and 1,156 people have died from the virus.

The county is now averaging 178.9 cases per day over the past seven days, a tick down from 182.9 cases yesterday (Sunday), which was the highest weekly average since April 14.

With more than 80 cases per 100,000 people reported in the last week and a testing positivity rate of 4.4% as of the week ending on Aug. 14, the county’s community transmission level remains substantial.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Aug. 23, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Still, the Fairfax Health District continues to make incremental progress on vaccinations, administering first doses to an additional 6,257 residents since last Monday.

781,039 residents — 66% of the district’s population — have now gotten at least one vaccine dose, including 78.1% of adults 18 and older, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard.

705,135 residents are considered fully vaccinated, meaning it has been at least two weeks since they received both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That amounts to 71% of adults and 59.6% of the total population.

However, perhaps the biggest test of the county’s vaccination effort yet began today, as roughly 180,000 Fairfax County Public School students returned to in-person classes, many of them for the first time since March 12, 2020.

With students younger than 12 still unable to get vaccinated, FCPS announced on Friday that all of its employees will be required to get the vaccine or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests, though the mandate won’t actually take effect until October due to the amount of time needed for the two-shot vaccines. The county government said it will implement the same policy for its workers but has not shared a start date.

According to FCPS, 62.6% of 12-15 year olds and 74.9% of 16-17 year olds in the Fairfax Health District are fully vaccinated as of Aug. 20.

As of yesterday (Sunday), FCPS has reported 1,758 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 8, 2020, including 772 cases involving staff and 823 infections of students.

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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