The nation's millions of federal workers will be required to verify they've been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else face mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and other new rules, the Biden administration announced Thursday.
The newly strict guidelines are aimed at boosting sluggish vaccination rates among the 4 million Americans who draw federal paychecks and to set an example for private employers around the country.
“It's a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” President Joe Biden said in a White House address. Then he repeated it with emotion in his voice. “People are dying who don't have to die.”
The administration is encouraging businesses to follow its lead on incentivizing vaccinations by imposing burdens on the unvaccinated. Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the plan will make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply.
Biden is also directing the Defense Department to look into adding the COVID-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military. And he has directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.
Biden is also urging state and local governments to use funds provided by the coronavirus relief package to incentivize vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals who get the shots.
And he’s announcing that small- and medium-sized businesses will receive reimbursements if they offer employees time off to get family members vaccinated.
Biden's move for the federal government — by far the nation's largest employer — comes in the face of surging coronavirus rates driven by pockets of vaccine resistance and the more infectious delta variant.
However, pushback is certain. The action puts Biden squarely in the center of a fierce political debate surrounding the government's ability to compel Americans to follow public health guidelines.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.