Biden announces COVID-19 vaccine mandates for millions of US workers
President Joe Biden announced a six-pronged plan on Thursday to combat a rise in COVID-19 cases in the United States driven by the delta variant, including federal vaccine mandates that could cover nearly 100 million workers.
Under an “emergency rule,” Biden said the Department of Labor will require that all U.S. employers with 100 or more employees ensure their workers are vaccinated or can provide a negative COVID-19 test result at least once a week.
These companies — some of which already have such rules in place — employ over 80 million workers, Biden said.
“The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,” Biden said.
At the federal level, Biden signed an executive order requiring all federal executive branch workers — and any employees of contractors that do business with the federal government — to be vaccinated.
“I think it is important for the federal government to play a leadership role by having its own employees and contractors vaccinated,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Healio. “This will increase the resiliency of the workforce as well as increase the resiliency of the population to disruption from COVID-19.”
Additionally, Biden said that all health care workers at Medicare and Medicaid participating hospitals will be required to get vaccinated — a workforce estimated to be over 17 million people.
“It is also critical to use the levers of power that exist within Medicare and Medicaid to get hospitals to require vaccination as a condition of participation in these programs,” Adalja said.
In addition to the vaccine mandates, the other five prongs of the plan involve protecting the vaccinated with a booster shot program — which the administration said is still slated to begin on Sept. 20, pending FDA approval and CDC guidelines — keeping schools safely open, increasing testing and requiring masking, protecting the economic recovery, and improving care for patients with COVID-19.
Under the plan, all employees at Head Start and Early Head Start programs, Department of Defense schools, and schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education will be required to be vaccinated.
To keep schools open, Biden called on all states to also adopt vaccine requirements for school employees.
“I am calling on all governors to require vaccination to all teachers and staff,” he said. “Some have already done so. We need more to step up. Vaccination requirements in schools are nothing new. They work.”
Like the first two shots, Biden said booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be free and widely available at over 80,000 locations. The U.S. booster program has drawn criticism from some world leaders, including WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, who has called for a moratorium on boosters until lower-income countries raise their vaccination rates.
Biden said 500 million doses of the newly approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been deployed to low-income countries to combat COVID-19 globally, and that further efforts and a plan will be announced later in the month.
The new six-pronged plan will also make at-home COVID-19 tests more available and affordable, Biden said. Retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Kroger will sell tests for up to 35% less by the end of this week and continue for the next 3 months.
“This is long overdue,” Adalja said.
Moreover, the Defense Department will deploy double the amount of its military health teams throughout the country to increase support for hospitals burdened with COVID-19 cases, including the deployment of more monoclonal antibody treatments, Biden said.
“As we continue to battle COVID-19, we will ensure that equity continues to be at the center of our response,” Biden said. “We will ensure that everyone is reached.”
Lastly, in order to protect the economic recovery, Biden announced the expansion of the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
White House. Path out of the pandemic. https://www.whitehouse.gov/covidplan/. Accessed September 9, 2021.