PresidentJoe Biden imposed strict new vaccination mandates on federal workers, large companies, and healthcare workers on Thursday in a broad effort to contain the newest Covid-19 outbreak.
The new requirements could apply to as many as 100 million Americans close to two-thirds of the American workforce and amount to Biden’s strongest push yet to require vaccines for much of the country.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,”Biden said, his tone hardening toward Americans who still refuse to receive a vaccine despite ample evidence of their safety and full approval of one the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from the US Food and Drug Administration.
He said vaccinated America was growing “frustrated” with the 80 million people who have not received shots and are fueling the spread of the virus. And he acknowledged the new steps would not provide a quick fix.
“While America is in much better shape than it was seven months ago when I took office, I need to tell you a second fact: We’re in a tough stretch and it could last for a while,”Biden said in an early evening speech from the White House.
At the center of Biden’s new plan is directing the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week, an expansive step the President took after consultation with administration health officials and lawyers. Companies could face thousands of dollars in fines per employee if they don’t comply.
US Postal Service workers would fall under that rule, a senior administration official told CNN, and employees will be required to be vaccinated or face mandatory weekly testing. The Postal Service, a quasi-independent agency, employs more than 640,000 people.
Biden also signed an executive order requiring all government employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt-out. The President signed an accompanying order directing the same standard to be applied to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.
He said 300,000 educators in federal Head Start programs must be vaccinated and called on governors to require vaccinations for schoolteachers and staff.
And Biden announced he would require the 17 million health care workers at facilities receiving funds from Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated, expanding the mandate to hospitals, home care facilities, and dialysis centers around the country.
“We have the tools to combat the virus if we come together to use those tools,”Biden said at the outset of what was billed as a major speech to tackle the latest phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new rules amount to the most dramatic steps to date to get more Americans vaccinated. Once cautious of vaccine mandates, the Biden administration is now wholly embracing them as vaccine hesitancy persists among certain groups.
Administration officials acknowledged the requirement for large employers could be challenged in court. But they said their hope was to provide cover of federal rules to businesses who want to require vaccines for employees.
The new rules come as the Delta variant tears through communities across the country, causing upticks in hospitalizations and deaths particularly in areas where vaccination rates remain low.