Biden mandates vaccine for all federal workers as part of new plan to combat delta — 9 details

As part of his strategy to contain the pandemic, President Joe Biden revealed Sept. 9 a mandate that federal workers and contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19, without the option to undergo weekly testing. 

President Biden administration's latest mandate eliminates an earlier rule in July that gave federal employees who were unvaccinated the option to undergo weekly testing. Federal workers now have about 75 days to get fully vaccinated. Those who fail to comply will first go through the "standard human resources process and then face progressive disciplinary action," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Sept. 9 news conference. 

"We remain at a critical time. We have the tools, now we just have to finish the job with truth, with science, with confidence," said President Biden during a speech about his COVID-19 strategy. 

President Biden's speech comes as the new daily COVID-19 hospitalization rates in the U.S. climbed 1 percent over the last two weeks, according to data tracked by The New York Times. At the same time, the CDC reported 177,433,044 Americans had been fully vaccinated as of 6 a.m. ET Sept. 9, or 53.4 percent of the country's population.

The vaccine mandate for federal workers is part of the White House's larger six-pronged approach to curb the pandemic. The "Path out of the Pandemic" plan includes getting more people vaccinated, booster shots, keeping schools open, increasing testing and mask wearing, protecting the economy, and improving COVID-19 treatments. 

Nine details:  

1. The administration's multipronged approach will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their staff are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The White House said the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration will issue an emergency temporary standard to implement the requirement, affecting more than 80 million workers in private sector businesses. OSHA will oversee enforcement, issuing fines up to nearly $14,000 per violation for businesses that don't comply, an official told Forbes

2. President Biden said he is also requiring that federal executive branch workers, as well as employees of contractors that do business with the federal government, be vaccinated, with limited medical and religious exemptions. The requirement does not include an option of regular testing to opt out, according to CNN. Federal officials said the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the National Institute of Health will complete implementation of their previously announced vaccination requirements covering 2.5 million people. HHS announced a vaccine mandate for more than 25,000 of its healthcare workers Aug. 12. 

3. CMS will require COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million healthcare workers at Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and other healthcare settings. The requirement applies to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings and home health agencies, the White House said. It expands on the CMS announcement Aug. 18 that nursing homes must have staff vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for receiving federal funds.

4. Contingent upon FDA and CDC authorization, the administration said it is prepared to begin rolling out booster doses starting Sept. 20. Information about where to get a booster shot will be available at once approved for the general population. The FDA amended the emergency use authorizations for both Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA COVID-19 vaccines Aug. 12 to allow immunocompromised people to get an additional dose. 

3. The new plan calls on governors to require vaccinations for all teachers and school staff in their states. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C., already require the vaccine for K-12 school staff. It also includes requirements for 300,000 staff at federal Head Start programs and personnel who work with children at the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools to be vaccinated. 

4. To make testing more accessible, the White House is using the Defense Production Act to boost production of rapid COVID-19 tests that can be completed at home. The plan also aims to make rapid tests more affordable by working with large retailers including Walmart and Amazon, which will sell the tests at cost. The number of pharmacies offering free tests as part of HHS' free testing program has been expanded to 10,000 under the new plan. 

5. The Transportation Security Administration will double penalties for people who refuse to wear masks on flights, airports and other public transportation settings to a range of $500 to $1,000 for first offenders. 

6. The economic leg of the plan includes a number of reforms, including an expansion of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to allow small businesses to borrow up to $2 million, up from the current amount of $500,000. 

7. The Department of Defense will double the number of military health teams deployed to assist hospitals that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Beginning this month, the administration is increasing the average weekly pace of monoclonal antibody treatment shipments to states by 50 percent. HHS is also amending the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act declaration to increase the number of providers, including pharmacists, who can administer these treatments. 

8. The admnistration's COVID-19 approach prompted pushback from Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who called the vaccine mandate "unconstitutional."

"Joe Biden told Americans when he was elected that he would not impose vaccine mandates. He lied. Now small businesses, workers and families across the country will pay the price," she said in a Sept. 9 statement. "Like many Americans, I am pro-vaccine and anti-mandate. Many small businesses and workers do not have the money or legal resources to fight Biden's unconstitutional actions and authoritarian decrees, but when his decree goes into effect, the RNC will sue the administration to protect Americans and their liberties."

9. The American Medical Association praised the COVID-19 plan, citing rapid spread of the delta variant, increases in COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations, and strain on healthcare workers. 

"Aggressive measures will be needed to prevent further widespread transmission of COVID-19," Gerald Harmon, MD, president of the association, said in a statement Sept. 9. "Increased testing — more available and affordable — is a major step forward; a new push to vaccinate young people targets an important under-vaccinated group; increasing the supply of monoclonal antibody treatment provides much needed care; supporting schools that provide additional protections for their students and ensuring hospitals, dialysis, home health and ambulatory surgical centers also require vaccinations — will help us reach vaccination thresholds necessary to defeat COVID-19."


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