A COVID-19 vaccine could come within weeks — at least a limited supply to front-line medical workers. Drug companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have the leading vaccine candidates. Several others remain in development.
The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for authorizing and approving all vaccines in the USA. Widespread vaccine use once one is given the green light could provide a way to end the coronavirus pandemic. USA TODAY interviewed FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn about how the approval process works, how quickly it could go, and how the agency will encourage Americans to take the vaccine.
What is the ACIP? For a COVID-19 vaccine to get cleared by the FDA, these 15 experts will vouch for its safety
How a COVID-19 vaccine will be authorized
Question: How will a COVID-19 vaccine get clearance for use?
Answer: Companies have the option of applying for either a license (called a Biologics License Application) or an Emergency Use Authorization. It’s their choice.
Q: What is an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)?
A: An Emergency Use Authorization is an authority that Congress gave to FDA after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to allow countermeasures, treatments or vaccines to be available earlier than would normally be done under the approval process.
Q: Has the FDA ever issued an Emergency Use Authorization for a vaccine?
A: Yes, for an anthrax vaccine (in 2005).
Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, promises transparency in the vaccine approval process.
How an Emergency Use Authorization differs from FDA approval
Q: What standards must companies meet to get Emergency Use Authorization?
A: The standard that’s used for an EUA is that it must be effective in the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 and that the risk/benefit ratio is in favor of authorization.
For vaccines, that’s especially important because unlike treatments, vaccines are given to people who are otherwise healthy. They don’t have COVID-19, so when we look into the risk/benefit ratio … we have to factor that into its safety and effectiveness. We have to be incredibly thoughtful about this.
How FDA evaluates the safety of a vaccine given emergency authorization
Q: What can you say to reassure people that a vaccine approved under an EUA is just as safe and effective as one approved under a BLA, even though there isn’t as much long-term effectiveness data?
A: The standards we expect in safety and effectiveness in an EUA are very similar to what we expect in a BLA. Our career scientists have been doing this for years; this is their area of expertise. They will be judging the science and medicine.
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