Washington — President Biden announced the most sweeping COVID-19 vaccine requirements yet on Thursday, which will affect roughly 100 million Americans. More than 80 million Americans will be affected by a requirement that all companies with at least 100 employees must mandate vaccines or employees must undergo regular testing.
“My job as president is to protect all Americans,” Mr. Biden said Thursday. “So tonight, I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together employ over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week,”
Mr. Biden noted that many large companies already require vaccinations. “The bottom line — we’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,” he said.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing a rule requiring all employers with at least 100 employees to make sure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to get a negative test at least once a week. OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to introduce the vaccine requirement. Companies that fail to comply could face fines of $14,000 per violation, Mr. Biden said.
That was just one of the mandates and changes the president announced in a speech on boosting vaccinations and battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The president also announced vaccination requirements for health care providers that accept Medicare and Medicaid, for all federal employees and contractors and for the staffs of Head Start programs, Department of Defense Schools and Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools. Mr. Biden had announced in July the federal workforce would need to provide evidence that they had been vaccinated or submit to regular testing and practice social distancing measures in the workplace.
The new mandates are part of a six-pronged White House strategy to battle the COVID-19 Delta variant and boost vaccinations as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb. The six pillars are: vaccinating the unvaccinated; furthering protection for the unvaccinated; keeping schools safely open; increasing testing and requiring masking; protecting economic recovery; and improving care for those with COVID-19.
The president started out his speech by saying he knows many are frustrated with the 25% of adults in the U.S. who have yet to get a single COVID-19 shot. That 25% “can do a lot of damage,” he said. He made an appeal directly to unvaccinated Americans.
“What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” he said. “We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us. So please, do the right thing.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Thursday there will be limited disability and religious exceptions to the federal employee vaccine requirement. Those who are not exempt and do not comply will be subject to disciplinary action, including possible termination, she said.
“There are limited exceptions, but yeah, the expectation is that if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated, unless you are eligible for one of the exemptions,” Psaki told reporters.
The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, the largest federal employee union, is taking issue with the mandatory vaccine requirement, even though it has encouraged workers to get vaccinated. AFL-CIO president Everett Kelley said that “changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate,” and he said the union expects to bargain over this rule before it’s implemented.
Still, Psaki said the president “has every intention of signing this executive order, getting the clock running on the timeline for these requirements, and his view and our view is this will serve as a model to the rest of the country on the need to get more people vaccinated in order to save more lives.”
The president also announced measures to ensure kids are adequately protected in classrooms, as he aims to make more testing available. He’s also urging states to require vaccinations for all school teachers and staffs.
Mr. Biden also said he’s using the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of rapid COVID-19 tests, and at-home rapid tests will be available at major pharmacies over the next several months at cost.
CBS News has learned the president will raise the issue of COVID vaccination effort on a global scale with other world leaders when they meet at the United Nations General Assembly later this month. A senior administration official told CBS News that while they are “still planning the president’s schedule around UN General Assembly High Level week, it is safe to assume we are actively looking at COVID-19 and public-health centered options.”
The official stopped short of calling it a summit, but added that the administration anticipates “that there will be an opportunity for the president to engage with his counterparts on this issue during UNGA week.” One topic expected to be discussed among Mr. Biden and his counterparts, according to a second administration official will be about advancing and improving international cooperation on research and development on the COVID-19 front.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75.2% of American adults have at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. But community transmission across most of the country remains high, as the Delta variant makes up nearly all of the country’s cases. Nearly 650,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic last year.