President Biden announced yesterday that his administration is implementing multiple new COVID-19 vaccine mandates that will apply to 100 million people. It’s his most dramatic move yet to increase the vaccination rate in the United States, which is currently 54 percent.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” Biden said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us, so please, do the right thing,” he said in a speech from the White House.
Biden’s order doesn’t go as far as that of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which just mandated vaccines for students 12 and older. But it does ensure that more adults will be vaccinated, something that will help kids more indirectly—but still significantly.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden continued, in a dig at the rhetoric used by Republican lawmakers around the country. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you — the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Biden administration’s new, tougher approach.
Whom do the mandates cover?
Two-thirds of American workers, or about 100 million people, will now be required to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. The groups subject to the new mandates are:
- federal workers and contractors (except those who work for Congress or the federal court system)
- health care workers at facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement
- all employees of companies with more than 100 workers
Significantly, the latter group can opt for weekly COVID testing in lieu of getting vaccinated.
How will these mandates be enforced?
The rule for private companies with more than 100 employees will be an emergency regulation created and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has the authority to keep workers safe in the workplace.
The health care worker mandate will be enforced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the regulatory body for the healthcare industry. It’s likely that threats to withhold public funds will be made if any medical facilities refuse to comply with the agency’s rule.
Significantly, all of the employers subject to these mandates are required to provide paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated.
What has the reaction been?
The American Medical Association said it was “pleased by the Administration’s significant efforts to help get this pandemic under control,” and the strong evidence that vaccine mandates increase vaccination rates means the medical establishment is broadly supportive of Biden’s move.
Many unions applauded the move, but some were less enthused. A lawyer for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal employees, said it would be working with agencies to “not skip over procedures and make sure employees have due process,” a sign of its wariness with a top-down, non-negotiated change in the rules.
Republicans reacted with alarm, with many promising legal action against the federal government and accusing Biden of everything from overreach to tyranny.
Per the New York Times, the vaccine mandates are part of an expansive six-part plan that the Biden administration is implementing. The other parts are easing access to booster shots, keeping schools safe (including by suing governors who’ve banned mask mandates), increasing testing and masking (including by making tests available at cost at major retailers), loosening Small Business Administration loan rules to speed economic recovery, and improving the response to the virus by deploying response teams and making COVID-19 therapeutics more widely available.
It’s all part of a more aggressive strategy, one that Biden seemed reticent to pursue until the Delta variant caused cases to spike and the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine took away a key argument against mandates.