UPDATED July 27, 5:50 p.m.: President Biden on Thursday will announce a requirement that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated or else submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements, CNN reported late Tuesday, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
Original story …
With the Delta variant causing a 378 percent increase in average COVID cases in the past month, the Biden administration is dancing around the easiest and most obvious solution to deal with another emerging wave of the pandemic: vaccine mandates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to issue yet another round of mask guidance on Tuesday, recommending that even vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors.
It marks a shift from the CDC’s previous position that breakthrough infections are rare and that vaccinated people don’t spread disease. The CDC has counted nearly 6,000 hospitalizations and nearly 1,200 deaths of people after they were fully vaccinated. (The agency stopped counting breakthrough infections earlier this year.)
The Biden administration and the CDC are limited in what they can actually do, due to the fact that public health rules during the pandemic have been mostly left to the states and local governments—many of which have so far attempted to use incentives such as lotteries and giveaways to persuade people to get the vaccine as opposed to requirements.
But with the spike in cases appearing to cause a decrease in the efficacy of the vaccines to stave off infections (though they appear to hold up exceptionally well against serious disease and death), that might be changing.
On Tuesday, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs became the first federal agency to require frontline healthcare workers—of which there are more than 115,000—to be vaccinated. The decision follows those of dozens of health systems around the country that are now requiring their workers to get vaccinated, after more than a year of watching hospitals get crushed by COVID-19 patients. And as early as May, some companies such as Goldman Sachs and Salesforce were either requiring or asking employees to disclose their vaccination status, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Some liberal governments have also begun to crack down on public sector employees refusing vaccinations. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a mandate this week that the city’s 340,000 public employees who haven’t been vaccinated either must do so or face weekly COVID-19 testing and mask indoors at all times until they do. Though nearly two-thirds of the city’s 18-and-over population is fully vaccinated, fewer than half of New York Police Department personnel has been inoculated.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is currently facing a recall effort, announced a similar effort for his state’s employees Monday. The New York City and California approaches echo, but don’t exactly match, the approach of France, which has mandated vaccines or negative COVID-19 tests in order to gain access to most indoor public places by August 1. Though there have been large protests against the new mandate, the country has also seen record vaccinations, with one website documenting more than 1.7 million appointments in a single hour.
More than 600 colleges and universities across the country have also implemented requirements that students be vaccinated, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, although some of these are contingent upon full approval of the vaccines by the Food and Drug administration.
Polling has indicated that full approval could help sway unvaccinated people into getting shots; a June survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than 30 percent of unvaccinated people would be more likely to get vaccinated if the vaccines received full approval.
Pfizer and Moderna submitted applications for priority review for full approval in May and June, respectively, and Pfizer’s was granted priority review. An FDA official told CNN earlier this month, however, that a decision would come within two months.
But while New York City and California push harder on vaccinations, in more conservative and under-vaccinated areas of the country, anti-vaccination resistance continues apace. Though “vaccine passports” have not been implemented in any real way, 19 states have banned vaccine passport systems or vaccine requirements either via law or executive order. These states include some of the hardest-hit by the Delta variant, including Missouri, Florida, and Arkansas.
Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has built a national profile over his opposition to pandemic restrictions and signed an executive order against vaccine passports earlier this year, is currently leading the nation in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Alabama’s GOP Gov. Kay Ivey—who signed a law banning vaccine passports just two months ago—recently expressed frustration in the state’s growing number of cases directing blame towards those who so far haven’t been inoculated.
“It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” Ivey told reporters last week. “These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”
At the same time, Ivey claimed there’s nothing more she can do, despite being the governor of the state. “I can encourage you to do something, but I can’t make you take care of yourself,” she said.