With COVID out of control, Biden unveils hefty vaccine mandates

With COVID out of control, Biden unveils hefty vaccine mandates

An older man in a suit speaks from a podium.Enlarge / US President Joe Biden speaks on workers rights and labor unions in the East Room at the White House on September 08, 2021, in Washington, DC.

President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a sweeping six-pronged plan to try to regain control over the COVID-19 pandemic, which is wildly raging once again in the US.

Biden will discuss the plan in remarks from the White House at 5 pm EDT.

The main focus of the president’s “Path out of the Pandemic” plan is on reducing the number of unvaccinated people in the country. As such, the plan’s most prominent elements are hefty vaccination requirements for millions of federal employees, health care workers, school employees, and even employees of private businesses.

Biden signed an executive order Thursday requiring COVID-19 vaccines for millions of federal workers plus millions more federal contractors. The new vaccine mandate eliminates a previous option that allowed federal workers to undergo regular testing in lieu of vaccination.

In addition to mandating vaccines for federal workers, Biden will also require vaccination for over 17 million health care workers who work at facilities that receive federal funding. The administration had previously required vaccination for all staff of federally funded nursing homes. The new requirements will extend vaccine mandates to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies—most facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements.

“Bold and ambitious”

The administration is also working on a rule—to be implemented through the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration—that will require employers with 100 or more workers to ensure that their workforce is fully vaccinated or submits to regular COVID-19 testing. The rule is expected to apply to over 80 million employees nationwide. OSHA is also working on a separate rule that will require those employers to provide paid time off to get vaccinated.


For schools, Biden will require vaccination for the nearly 300,000 staff in federal Head Start and Early Head start programs. He will also put pressure on governors to get all teachers and school staff vaccinated. Last, the administration will push more schools to implement regular testing, which will be funded by $10 billion the administration already allocated to schools earlier this year.

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Pressure to vaccinate the unvaccinated comes amid rampant spread of the hypertransmissible delta coronavirus variant, which has propelled a massive, nationwide surge in transmission among the unvaccinated this summer. Average daily cases jumped from as low as around 11,000 at the start of July to the current average of around 150,000 new cases per day. Hospitalizations are also peaking nationwide, with the current daily average around 100,000 people in the hospital with COVID-19. Cases, hospitalizations, and rising deaths are largely among the unvaccinated.

“The reason we’re here is because people have not gotten vaccinated—80 million of them,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. Currently, only 177 million people are fully vaccinated in the US. That’s 62.5 percent of people eligible for vaccination (people ages 12 and up) and only 53 percent of the population overall. “What our objective is, from the federal government, is to continue to take bold and ambitious steps to get more people vaccinated and protect more people.”

Other elements of the plan look to boost testing availability, reinforce masking guidance, provide loans and other support for small businesses, provide aid for overburdened hospitals, and support the Food and Drug Administration in swiftly reviewing vaccines for kids. Biden is also expected to touch on plans for the rollout of booster doses in his remarks.

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