Biden set to announce new vaccination requirements for 100m US workers | Joe Biden
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.
Rattled by a surge in Covid-19 infections, the US president hopes to mount a major counter-offensive with what senior administration officials described as an “aggressive, comprehensive and strong plan”.
Biden was due to deliver a speech about the effort on Thursday afternoon, seen as a high-profile attempt to reboot, claw back momentum and offer reassurance to Americans feeling anxious about outbreaks in schools and despair about whether the pandemic will ever end.
The six-pronged strategy, relying on regulatory powers and other actions, suggests that patience is wearing thin with the nearly 80 million Americans eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet got their first dose.
In a preview call with reporters, the White House said the Department of Labor was developing an emergency temporary standard that will require all employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly.
This will affect more than 80 million workers in private sector businesses. Companies that do not comply could face fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation.
The administration is also requiring all workers in healthcare settings that receive Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement be vaccinated, a move that applies to 50,000 providers and covers more than 17 million healthcare workers.
Biden has also signed executive orders requiring vaccinations for all federal government workers as well as for employees of contractors that do business with the federal government. The move represents a toughening of measures that Biden announced in late July, requiring federal workers to offer proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing and physical distancing measures in the workplace.
“If you want to work for the federal government, you must be vaccinated,” a senior administration official said. “If you want to do business with the government, you must vaccinate your workforce.”
He added: “In total, the new vaccination requirements in the president’s plan will cover about 100 million workers. That’s two-thirds of all workers in the United States.”
In another nod to public desire for life to get back to normal, the plan also calls on entertainment venues such as sports arenas and big concert halls to require that patrons be vaccinated or show a negative test for entry.
Biden seemed to be on course to effectively defeat the virus in early July, but has been accused of underestimating the highly contagious Delta variant and the intransigence of millions of unvaccinated Americans.
The fresh wave, combined with America’s shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan, threatens to inflict lasting political damage on Biden and derail his ambitious legislative agenda. His approval rating has dipped below 50% in opinion polls.
Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary, told the Politico website: “Fundamentally, for our public health, for our economic health and for the president’s political health, getting Covid right is the single most important issue that they face in the immediate term.
“We’re stepping into a different phase and the new administration has to meet the moment of that new phase. I think that begins in earnest with this speech.”
The second prong of the new plan aims to offer further protection for the more than 175 million people who are already fully vaccinated. This includes preparing to make booster shots available as soon as the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant approval.
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.