Biden plans to require that all federal workers be vaccinated
President Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face repeated testing mandates, a White House official said, a dramatic escalation of the administration’s effort to combat the delta variant’s spread.
The new rules will closely align with policies recently put in place for government officials in California and New York City, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The White House is not planning on firing government employees who aren’t vaccinated but will impose restrictions on them as a way to encourage them to receive one of the government-approved vaccines.
The plan is is part of a change in tack by the
White House in recent days as the delta variant has spread markedly through parts of the United States, particularly among unvaccinated Americans. Public health experts have long said that getting at least 70 percent of the public vaccinated is the most important tool in controlling the pandemic; some parts of the U.S. have fallen far short of that target.
On Monday, California and New York City said they would require government employees to either be vaccinated or face repeated testing requirements, and Biden was asked on Tuesday whether the federal government would impose similar requirements. “That’s under consideration right now,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question after an appearance at a government intelligence facility. "If you’re not vaccinated, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were.”
COVID-19 has begun yet another wave across the United States, with less than half of the country fully vaccinated. Some 163 million people are fully vaccinated. But after a surge in vaccinations in the first several months of 2021, rates have slowed. Biden has said he has no plans to reimpose school closures or other restrictions that went into place last year, but he has also said in recent days that changes must be made to stop the virus from picking up momentum again.
Biden’s planned announcement about the federal workforce comes as other employers, albeit much smaller ones, consider similar requirements.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which addresses workplace complaints about discrimination over race, religion, sex and other characteristics, issued guidance in May that said that employers could mandate vaccines for workers to work onsite, as long as they do it in ways that don’t run afoul of civil rights and disability statutes. The Justice Department followed with a similar memo Monday that said U.S. law doesn’t prohibit public and private employers from requiring the vaccine, even if it has only been approved for emergency use, by the Food and Drug Administration.