FDA Commissioner Hahn: COVID Vaccine Vital for Reaching Herd Immunity

Recent polls showing that about 60% of Americans are willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are concerning because the shots are an important step to get the nation to a state of herd immunity, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said Thursday.

“It is really important (that) people carefully consider their decision,” Hahn told NBC “Today” anchor Savannah Guthrie. “We need to get to herd immunity, and that requires a substantial percentage of Americans to be vaccinated. That’s why we’ve been transparent. It is why we want this public discussion of the data. It’s why we’ve been very careful about the review of the data.”

His comments came before an outside advisory committee is to meet late Thursday morning to review the Pfizer vaccine and make its recommendations to the FDA. Hahn said he would not prejudge what the committee, a “non-binding committee of scientific experts” will say, but “our plan is to take their recommendations into account for our decision making and make a decision shortly thereafter.”

The FDA, he added, intends to act quickly, but the advisory committee’s purpose is to obtain outside opinions. 

“We think it’s very important for transparency,” said Hahn. “We’re the only regulatory agency in the world that has a public vetting of the data. We’ll make that decision. Our scientific experts will make that decision.”

However, he stressed that the advisory committee’s review is “not just a formality.”

“We take this very seriously, in terms of having the transparency around our process,” said Hahn. “It is why we have outside experts, because issues, medical issues, scientific issues, could be raised that need to be addressed. Again, we’ll make that final decision. I have complete confidence in our scientific reviewers and their assessment of the data.”

Meanwhile, it is possible that the FDA will issue an advisory similar to one issued in the United Kingdom warning people with significant allergies not to get the Pfizer vaccine, said Hahn.

Hahn also defended the FDA for the time it is taking to approve the Pfizer vaccine. The U.K. is already giving shots and Canada has approved Pfizer’s vaccines

“The FDA is known around the world as the gold standard regulatory agency for authorization or approval of products,” he said. “We also have a very solemn promise to the American people. Our job is to assess the safety and efficacy and do that well. We have shrunk a process that normally takes months into one that’s taken weeks. I have 100% confidence in them, and the American people should, as well.”