President Joe Biden recently announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.
Speaking at the White House on Sept. 9, 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,” Biden said. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”
Despite more than 208 million Americans having at least one dose of the vaccines, the U.S. is seeing about 300 percent more new COVID-19 infections a day, about two-and-a-half times more hospitalizations, and nearly twice the number of deaths compared to the same time last year –– killing more than 1,000 people per day and imperiling a fragile economic rebound.
Biden’s new “action plan” requires that:
- All employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans.
- Roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will have to be fully vaccinated.
- Employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government will be required to be vaccinated — with no option to test out.
Union reaction to the mandate generally supportive but muted.
AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler, on President Biden’s new policy, noted that “……we commend President Biden for taking additional steps to help put an end to this crisis. Everyone should be vaccinated—as one step in stopping the pandemic,” adding, “Workers and unions should have a voice in shaping these policies.”
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is also asking that this issue be part of bargaining, President Everett Kelley said, “…we urged everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can.”
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, called the mandate for federal workers “ill conceived,” saying, “Vaccination should be promoted through education and encouragement – not coercion.”
Added Schuler: “Workplace COVID-19 safety plans should also include mitigation measures like ventilation, removing infected individuals, masking and training workers. These are necessary to prevent exposures and, in combination with vaccines, will get us out of this pandemic.”
SCHOOLS AND ENTERTAINMENT VENUES
In addition to the vaccine mandates, Biden also moved to double federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights or to maintain face covering requirements on federal property in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The administration also is sending additional federal support to assist schools in safely operating, including additional funding for testing, and calling for large entertainment venues and arenas to require vaccinations or proof of a negative test for entry.