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COVID vaccine: What it means if the FDA grants full approval

Both Pfizer and Moderna are seeking full FDA approval in May.

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The Pfizer vaccine could get full FDA approval soon.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Companies and schools across the country have been hesitant to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, but that could soon change. Pfizer and BioNTech initiated full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration on May 7. Currently the Pfizer vaccine has emergency approval from the FDA, but full approval would allow Pfizer to market its vaccine directly to consumers. 

So far, more than 139 million Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the US, with over 59 million fully vaccinated with Pfizer. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only one that has emergency approval for 12-year-olds and older -- the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine for kids between the ages of 12 and 15 earlier this week.

It'll likely take months before the FDA makes a decision to grant full approval for the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna is also planning to file for full FDA approval later this month. Here's what could happen if approval is given.

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It may bridge the gap of COVID-19 vaccine trust issues

While over 261 millions vaccines have been administered across the US, there's still a number of people who are uncertain about the vaccine. Many trust issues stem from myths and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the idea that it's not been granted full approval by the FDA.

Some people have even reportedly skipped their second dose of the vaccine. But the second dose is vital for the vaccine to be up to 95% effective and to give you greater immunity.

Schools and government agencies could more easily mandate the vaccine

Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine isn't mandated across the board, as it's under emergency authorization use. However, whether a state, local government, or employer requires the COVID-19 vaccination is a matter of state or other applicable law, according to the CDC.

The Supreme Court case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts decided the states may impose "reasonable regulations" such as a vaccine requirement during a pandemic, to protect the "safety of the general public." 

Getting full FDA approval of the vaccine could also make it easier for the US military to require vaccinations for service members, as many younger troops have declined to take the vaccine, The New York Times reported. This is because once it becomes a fully approved vaccine, the military can order the troops to take the shot.

Schools can already mandate other vaccinations, but again, it's likely to fall on the states to make the decision to require students to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Employers could require you to get the vaccine before returning to work.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Employers could more easily require employees to get vaccinated

US employers can require employees to receive vaccinations against diseases that have been recognized as pandemics, like COVID-19, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. However, some employers may be reluctant to require the COVID-19 vaccine while it's still under emergency authorization use. 

For instance, there may be pushback from some employees: Since the vaccine has only been given emergency approval, employers may require employees to show proof of vaccination but can't mandate the employee show their medical information.

Once given full approval, however, employers will more easily be able to mandate the vaccine -- as they can with the seasonal flu shot. 

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, here are 16 important do's and don'ts for getting your COVID-19 vaccine, situations in which you'll need your COVID-19 vaccine card and COVID-19 vaccine side effects, including what's normal and what to watch for.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.