Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans
Joe Biden, seeking to restore public confidence in his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, is set to announce on Thursday new vaccination requirements for 100 million workers, about two-thirds of the entire American labour force.
Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the roughly 80 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.
“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”
He said Americans who have received vaccinations were growing “frustrated” with the 80 million people who have not. And he acknowledged the new steps would not provide a quick fix.
“While America is in much better shape than it was seven months ago when I took office, I need to tell you a second fact: We’re in a tough stretch and it could last for awhile,” Biden said in his speech.
In his speech, the President directed the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week. Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee if they don’t comply.
Biden has signed an executive order requiring all government employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out. The President also signed an order directing the same standard be applied to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.
He also said he will require that 300,000 educators in federal Head Start programs be vaccinated and will call on governors to require vaccinations for schoolteachers and staff.
And Biden said he will require the 17 million health care workers at facilities receiving funds from Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated, expanding the mandate to hospitals, home care facilities and dialysis centers around the country.
“We have the tools to combat the virus if we come together to use those tools,” Biden said at the outset of what was billed as a major speech to tackle the latest phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new rules amount to the most dramatic steps to date to get more Americans vaccinated. Once cautious of vaccine mandates, the Biden administration is now wholly embracing them as vaccine hesitancy persists among certain groups.
The new rules come as the Delta variant tears through communities across the country, causing upticks in hospitalizations and deaths particularly in areas where vaccination rates remain low.
Biden will also use his remarks to call for governors to require vaccinations for teachers and school staff; currently only nine states have such measures in place.
Mask mandates have become a toxic political issue, with the Republican governors of some states, such as Florida and Texas, seeking to ban them only to face dissent from some school districts and legal challenges. About 45 million children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination.
An official said: “The president’s plan makes clear we will stand with those who are doing right by kids and take on those working to block or undermine these efforts.
“To that end, we are announcing that the Department of Education will make additional funding available to help local school districts backfill salaries and other funding where it has been withheld by state leaders for implementing Covid safety measures.”
The administration will also require vaccinations for teachers and staff at Head Start and Early Head Start programmes, teachers at the Department of Defense, and teachers and staff at Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools. These schools and programmes serve more than 1 million children a year and employ nearly 300,000 staff.
The plan pushes for accelerated production of rapid Covid-19 tests, including at-home tests, seeks to protect the economic recovery by helping more than 150,000 small businesses and improves care for people with Covid-19 by giving additional help to hospitals currently being overwhelmed.
More than 208 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 177 million are fully vaccinated, but confirmed cases of the virus have soared in recent weeks to an average of about 140,000 per day, with about 1,000 people dying from the virus daily, according to data from the CDC.
Most of the spread and the vast majority of severe illness and death is occurring among those not yet fully vaccinated against the virus, predominantly in areas that voted for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election.
An AP-NORC poll in August found that 55% of Americans are in favour of requiring government workers to be fully vaccinated, compared with 21% opposed.
The FDA decision last month to grant full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to people 16 and above has reportedly encouraged Biden to take the step.