- President Joe Biden announced a sweeping six-part plan to inoculate the remaining 80 million unvaccinated Americans.
- Vaccine mandates will now apply to federal contractors, healthcare workers, and many private-sector workers.
- The plan also mobilizes industry to increase testing capacity and mask production, supports hard-hit health care systems, and mandates vaccination for some federal school employees.
President Joe Biden outlined a six-part COVID plan on Thursday to push more eligible Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the United States records an average of 136,000 cases every day.
The White House will require most federal employees to get the shot and remove the alternative option to undergo regular testing. Employers with 100 or more workers must require either the vaccine or weekly testing. In total, the plan will affect about two-thirds of all U.S. workers.
The new strategy marks the administration’s most aggressive step yet toward increasing vaccination rates. Earlier this year, Biden expressed hesitancy at implementing a federal vaccine mandate. But as the Delta variant continues to drive a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the U.S., Biden took a firmer stance.
“We’ve been patient,” he said at a press conference. “But our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us.”
About 27% of eligible Americans over 12 years old have not received a COVID-19 vaccine. In some states it’s even higher: 42% in Texas, for instance. More than 90% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, according to the White House COVID-19 response team.
“It’s about time that President Biden really lays the blame on the unvaccinated,” Leana Wen, MD, medical analyst and public health professor at George Washington University, tells Get Meds Info. “People choosing to remain unvaccinated are the ones who are setting back the progress that’s been made.”
Biden’s COVID strategy includes some of the following points:
Vaccine Mandates In the Workplace
Employers with more than 100 workers must require them to be vaccinate or face weekly COVID-19 testing. They must also offer workers paid time off to get vaccinated. The rule will be enforced by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The administration will also require vaccinations for the more than 17 million healthcare workers in hospitals and other institutions that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. As of July, 27% of the country’s healthcare workers remained unvaccinated, according to a study by the Covid States Project.
“There are many workplaces that have already wanted to implement vaccine requirements, and the federal government coming out to be in support of it gives them the political cover that they need,” Wen says. “They can point to the federal government and say, ‘We didn’t want to do this, but since this is something that the federal government is doing, that’s why we’re doing it.’”
Major corporations like Goldman Sachs, United Airlines, and Tyson Foods have already mandated vaccinations for their employees.
Biden had previously said that federal workers could opt for regular testing instead of vaccination, but they now have 75 days to get vaccinated or be fired unless they fall into an exemption category.
The rule also extends to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government.
The National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable praised efforts to increase vaccination rates. Some union groups say workers must have a say in implementation of the rules.
Everett Kelley, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, agreed with the importance of vaccination but said that the changes should be negotiated before implementation.
Some Republican leaders said that the new rules have gone too far and threatened legal challenges.
Booster Plan and Increase Testing Capacity
Last month, the White House announced a plan to administer booster shots to fully vaccinated members of the general public starting September 20.
Biden acknowledged that there has been confusion about vaccine boosters. He said the decision of when to administer boosters will be decided by officials at the federal health agencies.
An advisory board for the Food and Drug Administration will meet on September 17 to decide the authorization of boosters and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also have to set guidelines on who should be prioritized.
The plan also called on industry leaders to improve COVID-19 testing capacity by making at-home tests more affordable, expanding free testing at pharmacies, and sending free rapid tests to food banks and community health centers.
To support hard-hit healthcare systems, the Biden administration will send additional medical professional response teams to the most impact areas. It will also increase shipments of monoclonal antibody treatment by 50% to help prevent hospitalizations.
Rules for Travel and Leisure
Travelers who refuse to wear masks on flights will now face a fine between $500 and $1,000, while second-time offenders will face a penalty of up to $3,000.
Wen says the federal government should follow the examples set by states like New York and California, which have established “no vaccine, no service” rules for things “that people really want,” like bars, gyms, and restaurants.
Biden urged entertainment venues, such as movie theaters and sports arenas, to require vaccination or proof of a negative test result to gain entry.
Keeping Students Safe
The uptick in cases is overwhelming some hospitals, threatening the country’s economic rebound and in-person learning for students returning to the classroom. At least a thousand schools have already closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Under the new COVID strategy, staff in federally-funded education institutions, including Head Start programs, Department of Defense schools, and Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools, must be vaccinated.
The administration urged all states to adopt vaccine requirements for school employees and promised to provide extra funding to support schools’ safety efforts as they reopen. But it stopped short of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for children older than 12 and implementing a national mask mandate.
“The path ahead, even with the Delta variant, is not nearly as bad as last winter,” Biden said. “But what makes it incredibly more frustrating is that we have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans—supported by a distinct minority of elected officials—are keeping us from turning the corner.”
What This Means For You
If you are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, your employer may soon require you to get the shot or submit to weekly testing, per new federal regulations. Visit vaccines.gov for more information about vaccines and to sign up for an appointment.