President Biden on Thursday announced new rules that will require most federal workers, health care workers, and some private sector employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19—sweeping actions that a senior White House official said could affect up to 100 million Americans.
In the announcement, Biden said private-sector employers with at least 100 employees will have to either require vaccinations or weekly testing following a rule that will be drafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers that violate the rule will be penalized $14,000 per violation, according to an administration official.
In addition, most hospitals and other health care facilities that accept reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid will be required to vaccinate their workers, a mandate that will be enforced by CMS, Biden said.
Biden also announced his administration would deploy "response teams" from various government agencies "to stem the spread of Covid-19" and assist overburdened hospitals. Therapeutics for Covid-19 that have been tested and recommended by doctors, including monoclonal antibodies, will be made more widely available as well, Biden said.
Nearly 300,000 educators who are part of the Head Start Program and at more than 200 federally run schools will also be required to be vaccinated, Biden announced. Biden also urged parents to ensure all children ages 12 and older get vaccinated and urged states to mandate school staff and teachers get vaccinated.
"About 90% of school staff and teachers are vaccinated," he said. "We should get that to 100%."
The majority of federal workers and contractors will be required to be vaccinated as well, Biden announced. According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, most workers will have a 75-day grace period to get vaccinated.
Workers who choose not to get vaccinated and do not qualify for a religious or disability exemption will "go through the standard HR process," Psaki said, which would include disciplinary action.
The federal employee mandate specifically applies to employees of the executive branch, federal agencies, the White House, and the armed services. It does not apply to Congressional workers or those who work for the federal court system, White House officials said.
"This is not about freedom and personal choice. It's about protecting yourself and those around you," Biden said. "The bottom line, we're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers."
"What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?" Biden added. "We've been patient but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal is costing all of us."
According to a senior administration official, "the new vaccination requirements in the president's plan cover about 100 million workers. That's two-thirds of all workers in the United States."
The president also said he will use the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of rapid testing kits and will work alongside companies like Amazon and Walmart to increase the tests' availability.
In addition, Biden announced the Transportation Security Administration would double fines for passengers who refuse to wear masks. "If you break the rules, be prepared to pay," Biden said.
Biden said the mandates would take time to "have full impact," and experts say they are likely going to be taken to court.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said he "will pursue every legal option available to the state of Georgia to stop this blatantly unlawful overreach by the Biden administration."
Similarly, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said the mandates are "un-American and will do far more harm than good. The vaccine is and should be a choice. We must and will push back."
However, some legal experts said the administration's actions are likely to prevail in court. Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University specializing in public health, said Biden's plan "is bold, audacious, and unprecedented. But I do think it's entirely lawful. He's on extremely strong legal ground."
Similarly, Steve Bell, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney specializing in labor and employment, said, "I think that the Department of Labor probably is in good stead to be able to justify its mandate for health and safety reasons for the workers."
Across the country, health care employers are facing a pressing question: How do you increase the number of staff vaccinated against Covid-19? Advisory Board's Miriam Sznycer-Taub, Lauren Woodrow, and Heather Bell spoke with Kimberly Daniel, partner at the health care law firm Hancock, Daniel & Johnson, P.C about the implications of mandating Covid-19 vaccines for your employees.
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