President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that all federal employees will be required to either attest they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or adhere to a host of new rules, a move that aligns with a growing trend of vaccine mandates across the country.
Details on the federal employee mandate
In a speech Thursday, Biden said the directive, which applies to the more than two million federal employees and four million contractors in the United States and elsewhere in the world, requires that those who have been vaccinated attest to having received a vaccine.
Unvaccinated employees will be required to wear a mask at work, socially distance from others, and undergo Covid-19 testing between one and two times per week.
"We all want our lives to get back to normal, and fully vaccinated workplaces will make that happen more quickly and more successfully," Biden said. "We all know that in our gut. With incentives and mandates, we can make a huge difference and save a lot of lives."
Biden also directed the Department of Defense to determine how and when the Covid-19 vaccine could be added to the list of required vaccines for those in the military. The Pentagon on Thursday evening said both military and civilian personnel would be required "to attest to their vaccination status" or adhere to the stricter prevention methods.
In addition, Biden called on state, local, and territorial governments to use stimulus funding to give unvaccinated Americans $100 to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. Further, Biden said small- and medium-sized businesses would be reimbursed for providing paid leave for employees to get their families vaccinated.
Biden added that he was open to more aggressive measures to boost vaccination rates, saying that it's "still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country" get vaccinated.
Federal workers' groups are divided on the mandate
Some groups representing federal workers expressed concern over the mandate, including the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) and the Professional Managers Association, which represents thousands of managers at the Internal Revenue Service.
"There will be a lot of pushback," Larry Cosme, president of FLEOA, said. "It's going to be an avalanche." Cosme added that he expects many workers at the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to be opposed to the mandate.
The American Postal Workers Union also expressed pushback to the mandate, but—on Thursday evening—a White House spokesperson said U.S. Postal Service employees would not be subject to the directive, the Washington Post reports.
However, other workers' unions praised the move, including the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, an AFL-CIO union representing around 25,000 federal workers.
"We're in the middle of a pandemic, over 600,000 people are dead, and we don't want any more of our members dying," Paul Shearon, the union's president, said.
As vaccine mandates become more common, some states are pushing back
With the announcement, the federal government aligned itself with a growing group of companies and localities enacting vaccine mandates.
Facebook, Google, and Netflix on Wednesday all announced that most employees would be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, joining other companies such as Morgan Stanley and the Washington Post. Similarly, more than 600 universities, including California State universities, have announced vaccine mandates for either students or employees.
And while a number of state and local governments, including New York State, have announced their own vaccine mandates for workers, others have passed laws that ban certain kinds of mandates, including Ohio and Florida.
On Wednesday, for instance, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed into law a bill stating that residents cannot be required to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to "access any public facility, any public benefit, or any public service." The law included exceptions for correctional facilities, where vaccines can be mandated "when a direct threat exists," as well as nursing homes and state-operated medical facilities.
"As he has long said, Governor Sununu believes that private entities have the choice to require vaccinations," Brandon Pratt, the governor's deputy communications officer, said. "The simple fact remains that the safest thing one can do is get vaccinated as soon as possible to help increase the state's already high vaccination rate." (Leonhardt, New York Times, 7/29; Schumaker, ABC News, 7/26; Linskey et al., Washington Post, 7/29; Karni/Shear, New York Times, 7/29; Rosenberg, Washington Post, 7/29; Rappeport, New York Times, 7/29)